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Parents’ guide: transitions

Updated: Mar 6

Whether it’s moving rooms, changing nursery, or even returning to nursery following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, transitions can be difficult for your little one.

In this guide, we will look at some things you need to know about transitions as well as ways to support your child before and during a transition.

First things first. By ‘transitions’ we mean the changes that all children experience during childhood – including starting at a new nursery, preschool, or primary school, moving classes etc.

But these can also include moving home, going on holiday, or returning to nursery from a break (for instance if they have stopped attending during the pandemic).

So, let’s get straight into things you need to know about transitions:


While it is impossible to remove all stress from a transition, there are things you can do to reduce it! The most important factor is how well your little one knows and feels comfortable with the adult they will be with.

This relationship is especially vital when it comes to babies and toddlers who rely on emotional support from adults as they don’t yet have the social skills to lean on friends.

Also, older children who don’t have friendships in the settling will also be more relaxed if they are already comfortable with the adult there.

Body language

Young children including babies are quite well versed in reading body language and tones of voice. If your little one senses that you are anxious, their stress levels will increase.

A positive transition for your child relies on you feeling comfortable too. If you are feeling anxious, think about why this might be and talk to someone about your concerns.

If this is to do with starting or re-starting nursery, speak with your nursery manager or key person.

Positive transitions

It is important that your child experiences positive transitions in early childhood. This is because these act as templates for the way they will deal with change in the future.

A stressful transition can instil a negative perception of change that can be hard to unravel, making it more difficult for children to cope with changes later in life.

Schools and nurseries

All nurseries and schools have a system in place to support children.

If for instance, your little one is starting at a new nursery, you can speak with the manager and find out how they can support your little one’s transition to come up with an effective plan together.

This is particularly important if your little one has had a difficult transition experience before.

Your little one’s personality

The way your child adapts to transitions is also affected by their personality.

While young children’s personality is still under development, many parents quickly pick up some of their children’s personality traits.

Children who are more extroverted often find it easier to cope with meeting new people and being in new situations.

While introverted children will take time to get used to new people and are less adventurous - so may need longer to settle in.

Every little butterfly is different and it’s important to cater the transition period to their specific needs!

Now onto some ways to support your child’s transitions:

Familiarity with the environment

Whatever it is, a transition can be made less stressful if your little one is familiar with what is about to happen.

This is why, for example in nurseries, settling-in sessions are so important and why it is always important to visit the nursery at least once before registering.

There are other ways you can help your child become more familiar with a transition that is about to happen.

For example, if your child is about to transition to primary school and will need to wear a uniform, you can let them wear it for a week or so beforehand. Click here to check out our blog post all about preparing for primary school.

You can also walk by the school or nursery so that your child becomes used to the new journey and the idea of going there.

Another good way to create familiarity is to simply speak to them! Explain and discuss what is about to happen so they can get used to the idea.


Most schools or nurseries will offer settling in sessions, as mentioned previously.

It is good to find out what will happen in these sessions so that you are familiar with the process and are able to prepare your little one.

So, if the process involves staying and playing with your little one, try doing less and less with them slowly, so that other adults or children can take over as playmates.

But be sure to do this gradually as handing your child over to another adult straight away can backfire and make them more anxious.

Goodbye routines

Develop a goodbye routine if you haven’t already – especially if your child is due for a transition.

To practice this, you can leave your child with a family member, friend etc. for a few minutes. Something simple like ‘two kisses and bye bye’ can be very useful. This will make leaving overall a more positive experience.

First days

Lots of children cope better with a transition if they have had a relaxed morning. This is as their stress level is lower than children who may have had a bumpy start to the day.

While it’s totally normal to struggle to get out of the door on time packed, fed and dressed, it’s worth planning to be super organised for the days before and after the transition in order to give your little one a better start to the day.

*Most importantly make sure your little one gets plenty of sleep as tired children can struggle with transitions more.

Finally, remember it may take some time for your child to settle in. If they seem very distressed or you are worried, then speak to someone (for instance the nursery manager) about your concerns.

It may be that your child needs some additional settling in time, a change in routine or some additional support.

Follow the links below for some further support

  • BBC, Bitesize – click here for games and additional advice for starting primary school.

  • Early Year Alliance, Transitions – click here for some additional information on managing transitions.

  • NHS, Separation Anxiety – click here for the NHS advice on separation anxiety.


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