The beginning of the school year is a good time to think about transition. When children cross the threshold of school, the teachers help them feel comfortable in the new environment, as well as help them understand that learning is a process that should not bring on anxiety. However, the preparation work prior to that first day can mean a greater reduction in anxiety.

At this moment you may be moving from your vacation time to work time or the reverse. As an adult, you have been making these changes from one location to another more often than you can recall. But thinking back to your earliest years, can you remember how it felt to start anything new? Sometimes you were lucky and had a friend or sibling with you but there were times when you trail blazed. Can you recall that first day of elementary school or even high school? The feelings that obscured your thoughts—all the questions about the unknowns— “Will I know anyone?”, “Do I know where to have lunch?”, and/or “Will I have to demonstrate skills I’m not good at?”

Transitioning well is as important as knowing how to read or do arithmetic. A confident understanding of transition sets the tone for what follows a person as they pass through all stages of life.

It’s a well-documented fact that children are born with their own strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to socialization, some children come out engaging with new people and testing new situations as if they are divine, while others hang back reluctantly, as they puzzle through the landscape looking for the key that brings understanding.

The familiar companion of transition is anxiety. As a child, I don’t recall a lot of discussion about anxiety. I recall that I, like my classmates, was expected to just deal; figure it out without discussion. But child development research has helped us to better understand what anxiety does to children when facing new experiences which they need to master. What we have learned is that if we can anticipate what a child may be thinking during such times, we can prepare them ahead to manage anxiety levels.

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of the first 5 years life. For those who do not have older children, this list is good to keep in mind. By the age of 5, these are differences that will occur within your child. Each requires many transitions.

You will see new levels of deeper

Self awareness
Emotional understanding
Moral judgment
Peer relationships
Forming simple symbolic concepts
Mastering increasingly complex physical skills
Independent self-help skills

All this deeper awareness produces different levels of anxiety—so getting ahead of the anxiety curve can be beneficial to both the child and parent. Helping to lessen the levels of anxiety in children during transitions can contribute to well rooted emotional strength.

Some techniques that help ease a child through transition are:

  • As much as possible, give your child a preview of what they are about to experience.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than a one word answer. Helping your child to be verbal about their feelings can release anxiety.
  • Be an anchor for your child—as you move closer to the date of transition and during the weeks after—follow a set pattern with them.
  • Always project calmness during their difficult moments and calmly be happy for them when things turn out good. Be a stable and understanding presence when things go awry. When things go well a calm happiness is also easier for them to absorb. Help them to see that they can captain their own boat and keep it stable.
  • Explaining that everyone, including you, must venture forth, experiencing new worlds and situations. Discussing your own memories of anxiety helps them unders tand it is normal to have anxiety.

Parents can take the mystery out of the transition experience; the more simplified the process is for children the easier it is for them.

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Supplemental Material


Little Treelittle-tree
Loren Long

A sweet story about a little tree who is anxious about shedding its leaves. The little tree does not want to let go and move on. Soon he realizes by not shedding his leaves, he is left behind. Eventually he builds the courage to shed his leaves and realizes how strong he is and that he enjoys this new part of his life.

Kevin Henkes

Although waiting is not the same as transition, waiting is a part of every child’s life as they move through the levels of the development. Kevin Henkes tells of the wander and imagination of waiting and why it is an intrinsic part of life.


How to Parent Your Anxious Toddleranxious-toddler
Natasha Daniels

Ms. Daniels is a child therapist who specializes in anxiety related issues with children. She covers a full list of issues including transition. This is a wonderful reference book, especially for a family in the early stages of child development. She structures her chapters with solid narratives of families who have experienced the focus issue provides practical information that is useful and clear. She does not delve to into the science which make this user friendly book.


Questions for Lonna

When the doors open on the firs t day of school, every child who passes through your doors is making a transition. All arrive knowing that they are either transitioning to a new school, grade level or entering for the first time. How does Playgroup address transition knowing that a positive experience during the early development years can instill competence far beyond pre school?

August is the most complicated month for Playgroup parents, it is a month which represents change and the most difficult reality, their children are getting older.

For many, August is the month between blissful summer freedom and Kindergarten. REAL Kindergarten. After a year of the stressful Kindergarten admission process the reality of a new school sets in.

I begin to receive phone calls in mid-August, first from mom, then from the children. I am reminded of the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

The summer is spent in Denial tha t the transition from Playgroup to elementary school will be exciting and fun. Children do not realize how very different their lives will be and parents want to view this transition as a highly desirable one. They spent a year doing what can be equated to rushing for a sorority or fraternity. New uniforms, backpacks and the promise of new friends are received with undying devotion to Playgroup. The parents experience Denial as they tell themselves the change will be great and their children will love meeting so many new children.

As the first day of school approaches so does Anger. Tears and rants are common. The lucky three year olds remaining in Playgroup have no idea how good they have it. The new school building that was promised to hold such adventure looks terrifying. After a first day, one five year old told his mother, “I am so disappointed in Kindergarten. It’s a place moms leave their kids for no reason and the kids cry.”

While the transition is occurring, during the first week, the phone calls come to me from the children. Why can’t Playgroup have Kindergarten? How soon and how often can they return? Can they spend every day off at Playgroup?

Within a few days the sadness or Depression sets in for both parents and children. One of my first graduated mothers came to me dumbfounded, “The head of school will NOT give me her home phone number?!” It becomes real, the nest has been left. The children and the parents are in the real world.

By Halloween both children and parents have settled in and accepted their new school and life away from Playgroup. Friends have indeed been made, the playground and lunch room makes sense and teachers communicate almost as extensively as Playgroup did.

I help my families deal with this transition by reminding them their job is to produce independent people who can participate in society without parents making their decisions for them. Our goal as parents is to launch our children and slowly remove the net. The most terrifying part of parenting is the slow removal of the net.

My teacher Nicole had a baby two weeks ago. She is in the “longest days fastest year” of her life. Nursing, changing, watching her baby breathe. The idea that he will sleep a few steps away from her is more than she can bear. My teacher Corinne took her first born to college last week. She texted me after her trip to the grocery store since he’s left saying she melted down in the sports drink aisle .

My 23 year old son, one year out of college and living in Los Angeles, was with us for his work. His first night home my husband said to me, “Is this going to be ok?” I didn’t think I would ever adjust to the silence in the house, the lack of constant friends coming over, lack of guitar strings and picks stuck in my dryer. Five years ago I could not imagine, as I pulled away from UCLA how I would live without him. But I have. We all have.

When he called to say his transmission blew up on The Grapevine returning to Los Angeles we were not his first call. He arranged AAA and a local mechanic before he called in. Has he fully transitioned into adulthood? Not completely, but better than I could have imagined. And so have I.

When my parents express their August Angst about the transition from Playgroup to Kindergarten I can assure them the removal of the net, including the net Playgroup provides, is the healthiest and most powerful part of parenting. I am living proof.

Lonna Corder
Executive Director, Playgroup