The topic of 'transitions' was introduced to me during a workshop I took in my late teens.
But not in the sense of 'big transitions' such as a career change or having a new baby, the passing of a loved one, or the end/beginning of a relationship.
Instead, the topic revolved around transitions as being very much a part of our day to day life - hour by hour, minute by minute. For instance,
- there is a transition between our inhalation and exhalation;
- there is a transition between waking up and coming to our senses and then getting up;
- there is a transition for children, from having to stop playing to coming to dinner;
- there is a transition from being immersed in an important work assignment and the knock of a door. or a call;
- there is a transition in getting out of the car and making your way to your next activity;
- there is a transition between mouthfuls.
Transitions are embedded in our daily life yet, as parents (humans?) we seem to pay attention to change mostly when it is so huge, it can feel as being hit like a bucket of cold water, or the rug being pulled out from under our feet.
When my children were younger I was very aware of these transitions (that workshop had a big impact in my life!).
When it was time to move to do something else, or leave the house, and they were engaged in play, I would walk very gently towards them and sit quietly (to be at their level) until they made eye contact with me. Then I would say 'it’s time to have lunch in 5 minutes' or 'we need to leave in 10 minutes'.
However, many times I have found myself calling from the bottom of the stairs: ‘it's dinner time!!!’ just as I'm serving the food, or 'it's time to gooooo!!! without any consideration to what they were/are doing.
But while there are times in which we are completely unaware of our actions, there are many, many times when we are aware; when we make an effort to be, and act, consciously.
So whether it is moving from playing to brushing teeth, or moving countries, these 7 steps are some of the lessons I've learned from those 'aware-moments'.
And I trust they will support you in navigating change in an easeful way, during your day to day life, but also, during the challenging or big times and transitions.
1. BECOME AWARE OF THE TRANSITION (OR CREATE, OR ACCEPT THE TRANSITION)
This might be as simple as looking at the clock and realising it is my sons’ bedtime, which is code for 'I need them to brush their teeth, put on PJs, choose a book to read, debrief about the day, read, cuddles-&-I-love-you’s, before lights out'
Or think 'how great it'd be to spend 3 months in Italy as a family?'
This could also mean finding out about a transition, such as a change of plans initiated by someone else, or hearing some sad news.
2. MENTALLY STATE THE TRANSITION.
Without rushing or jumping into it, or impulsively say it out loud, I give it a name, or picture an image.
E.g. ‘Bedtime’; seeing myself learning Italian, and going to the markets with the kids; 'Eddie's broken leg'
Yes! breathing keeps us alive but breathing deeply has some serious physiologically benefits too. It helps regulate our nervous system.
"When the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body rest and relax, begins to kick in, vision expands so we can see other possibilities."
~ Portland Helmich
4. GENTLY APPROACH YOUR NEXT STEP
Unless it is an emergency, ideally, I'd come in close and wait for eye contact say, if I'm about to interrupt what my sons are doing.
Or find a time when everyone is centred to share about my idea to live somewhere for a few months, rather than to spurt it out when my husband is stressed, or when my son just told me he misses his friends.
Or thinking about my options when checking in about Eddie's broken leg:
Should I call her mum directly, when she might be trying to sort out hospital stuff? Or should I text the friend who told me about it.
5. WHEN POSSIBLE, ALLOW AS MUCH PREP/WARNING TIME
'It’s bed time soon. I need you to start brushing your teeth in 5 minutes/ 1 minute so start wrapping up what you are doing.'
As adults we do this too, we may look at the clock and see we have 20 minutes before we need to pick up the kids from school, or to start getting ready for our next meeting.
Two questions that are helpful:
- What do I need to do to feel ready for my next step?
- How much time do I need to do it in an easeful/ confident way?
Children might need to start winding down their drawing, for instance. This is a good example of being in the middle of something important and having to stop.
Sure, in life, not all transitions will allow for us to have plenty of time to get ready, such as a call conveying stressful news. But these times are a good practice to know how to move from A to B in aware way, and to do it as centred as possible.
This is all part of self-regulating.
Our children may not be ready to wind up their drawing (or to go live in another country for 3 months!) because they may have a whole vision of what the drawing is to look like before to get to dinner.
Young children are in the present moment, they are not chained to the limits of time and schedules, and so in this case, they may ask for more time before dinner.
In this case, I would usually allow for it, given I have also prepared myself for this transition! And from knowing (by observing) that it will take longer than 5 minutes for them to come to the table (or 6 months to warm up to the idea of living somewhere else!)
In other instances, this might not be the possible, in which case, this scenario could act as yet another opportunity to practice moving from A to B with ease. Also to know that the drawing will be waiting for us when we get back.
And for us parents, to practice holding appropriate boundaries in the name of teaching life skills, and living harmoniously as a family.
6. WATCH THE FEELING / EMOTION
Granted, there are going to be ups and downs, and every transition might not be a bed of roses - or it might be a bed of roses but with very spiky thorns! - but how we feel at the time, informs our thinking and our actions.
So, if I’m exasperated that this is just another thing I have to do, and I don't want to be begging my kids to brush their teeth, yet again; or I have to put my baby to nap, for the 3rd time today - and this is how and where I’m coming from, then I can tell you, with not a shadow of a doubt, that the outcome will be very different.
For example, this morning, I woke up tired, and I really didn’t feel like getting up and making breakfast and lunches as I've been doing for the last two weeks, because my husband has been away for work.
But as soon as I noticed my attitude, I paused, and I observed my thoughts and I chose to think and feel differently.
Instead of getting up grumpy, I looked at my sons' faces, with their eyes closed, probably still dreaming, and I closed my own eyes and I gave thanks for being healthy, and for having the opportunity to care for my beautiful children.
When I opened my eyes, everything had changed, my whole outlook had shifted. I swear to you, I was happy making food (and let me tell you, the kitchen is not my favourite place and cooking, not my favourite activty!)
But say, your child is resisting to come to have dinner - even after you have allowed for extra-extra transition time, and you are feeling triggered.
What choice are you going to make in that situation?
I would go back to breathing.
There's a popular technique some parents use of 'counting' as a way to prompt children to do what the parents/adults want them to do ('It's time for dinner! 1...2...3...).
I find that approach disrespectful, controlling and even a bit of threat (I definitely wouldn't like anyone counting and pressuring me that way to do something, would you?)
That doesn't mean communication can't happen with win-win situations .
I would say:
'I know you are having a lot of fun drawing. It’s time to get ready for school now so we don’t miss the bus. I’ll help you choose your clothes.'
Or 'I know you are not liking the thought of not seeing your friends every day, or not sleeping in your bed, or [insert what the child might be experiencing/thinking]. We can talk about this another time, when you are ready.'
You’d be surprised at how cooperative children are when we relate to them in a respectful, peaceful and empowering way.
7. EMBRACE CHANGE
Temperaments will vary from child to child, from adult to adult. Some of us seem to adjust better to changes than others.
I have had to consciously work on this because in the past, when I didn’t feel safe, I resisted change a lot.
These days I am much more in love with new experiences and comfortable with being in the unknown. In fact it has become my new mantra:
And my children have taken to it as well. This has meant, trying new foods (!) and going places and events they would have resisted in the past.
I am aware that some transitions would require some assimilation and integration.
Saying 'embrace new experiences!' to a child who have just broken their leg and can't play soccer with her friends for the whole season, might not be the most sensitive thing to say.
Sometimes, simply being present and validating others', or our own, feelings and experiences, and taking some time to reflect and compose ourselves, is what is called for.
Here's to looking at change and transitions from a different lens.