Author Archive for cathychalmers

Importance of Transition Plans

Transition plans are identified strategies for parents to use to help
maintain consistency, predictability and stability in the life of a child, when
change in their environment and relationship is about to occur. These changes in
placement can happen through divorce, death of a caregiver, or in foster or
adoptive care. Plans are also helpful in cases when there is a change such as a
move, change in school or caregiver. Where court proceedings have been a part
of the placement plan, many times parties become conflict-ridden and opposed.
Transition plans are an effort to bridge these critical junctures by bringing the
parties together to serve the best interests of the child or children involved.
The main goal of a transition plan is to ease the inevitable change a child
will experience. Helpful strategies include building in comfort and security around
already existing routines as well as developing rituals that alleviate anxiety and
stress. It is important to understand how any given child responds to both
separation and comfort, so the plan will be personalized to fit the unique
characteristics of each child. If the new environment can copy features that
already serve as a source of security to the child, these will ease some of the
stress that is a part of any change. Objects of comfort, which can be taken
along, also serve to provide the child with a feeling of safety in an uncertain
In order to honor a child’s current emotion and development, the best
transition plans allow for identifying the child’s cues, indicating their current level
of security or stress. Adult stressors also have to be taken into account, as the
child will take many cues from both what they see and hear from the people in
charge of the transition. In addition to what is being said, facial expression (such
as fearful expressions versus a confident, warm and smiling expression), voice
modulation (such as rapid speech versus an even tone) and body movements
(such as speaking at the child’s level versus standing over) all communicate an
adult’s feelings about the situation. Support for the adults who are also
experiencing loss and conflicted feelings will be needed. It is important that
emotion-laden feelings be expressed away from the child, as children have no
means of controlling this situation, and will mirror the distress being presented.
Most change is naturally stressful for individuals, both young and old, who
must adapt to a change in daily routine that has become expected. Allowing a
child to utilize their personal strengths to dictate the pace and manner in which
they move through the change is again, the best way to honor an individual
child’s needs. Patience is key in allowing all parties to feel their way through a
new process. Allowing a child to slowly revisit the environment or people they
are about to lose, with continued contact as can be arranged and emotionally
managed, will help a child realize that out of sight doesn’t have to be out of mind.
Pictures, recordings of significant people reading favorite stories, letters to read,
and other reminders that will serve as touch points for the significant
relationships the child has experienced can be helpful. Rituals and routines that
have been established, in the face of a sometimes-chaotic move, need to be
given special attention. Monitoring your child’s ability to maintain regulation,
usually in the form of eating, sleeping and elimination, along with behavior and
emotional management, needs to be closely watched. Developmental regression
(the child’s functioning at an earlier stage of development-such as wetting the
bed once potty trained, or wanting to sleep with you once being able to sleep
alone) is to be expected during this period and should be allowed until the child
can regroup and move forward. Increased comfort, including smiles, holding,
rocking and other sensory comforts, such as blankets, teddy bears, etc., should
be an integral part of the plan. Frequently, heightened fear, anxiety and
confusion are all part of the move for the child. A child many times will not act
out, but withdraw internally to deal with the outside uncertainty.
Be aware of the child’s developmental stage and acquaint yourself with
social, emotional and periods of neurological development that are age-related.
Don’t try to encourage new developmental tasks (potty training, trying new foods,
sleeping alone) during this period as this can cause an overload on an already
emotionally taxed child. Initially limit the number of people involved with the child
to the few family members who will be a part of the daily routine. Additionally,
limit the sensory input from television and other sources so the child is able to
self-soothe and regulate with the primary caregivers. The child needs to develop
security in the new environment to develop a feel for both their surrounding as
well as new people that will allow for the building of a secure sense of the new
space as well as the new relationships.
Prepare the child verbally by discussing what is to happen in manageable
chunks of time-morning, after lunch and evening. I find it helpful to wake the child
slowly, with gentle sensory stimulation such as rubbing backs, playing with their
hair, etc. This followed by an explanation of what is occur that morning allows a
child to visualize a predictable routine. Upon a working parent’s re-entry into the
home, it is important to take some time to physically regulate to one another, by
possibly having lap time, in order that the parent and child can physiologically
become in “sync” with one another. When we hold another or are being held, our
blood pressure and respiration becomes the same. This allows us to be attuned
to our child in a manner that allows us to “be on the same page” and come
together after the busyness of each of our days. Reading a book together,
discussing day and evening expectations can ease uncertainty. Utilizing fun
distractions such as piggyback rides or other games/fun interactions can also
help parents to facilitate switching or transitioning within the daily routine, such as
preparation for bath, or bedtime. Give information in age-appropriate doses and
language, such that the child can start to develop a concrete awareness of what
to expect.
Transitions need to occur given a child’s cues of emotional and
behavioral signals, but should not be prolonged to the point that additional
anxiety is created. The help of a professional who is experienced with these
practices can create confidence for the parent in making uncertain decisions.
The parents can also be assisted in managing the myriad of emotions that
accompany feelings of uncertainty, grief and loss. The risk of abrupt change can
bring long-lasting detrimental effects on a child, particularly if the child has made
a series of moves. These sudden and unforeseen changes can create an
internal process whereby the child begins to over-control emotion and behavior,
as a self-protective measure. This affects the ability to form secure attachments,
because the child’s intuitive inner voice and heart begin to distrust the adults’
ability to effectively provide care or comfort. These breaks in attachment can
hamper to severely affect further developmental progress, as the child is
preoccupied with efforts to self-protect, and bolster their heart from being hurt.
Attachment is the driver of all areas of development, so a transition plan
with adults with whom the child is living, along with the adults to whose care the
child is preparing to go, is essential when a child is about to experience life-
altering change. Providing the best situation for a child dictates that anytime a
change is to occur, in environment and relationship, attention is paid to how the
child and involved adults move through this process. It is indeed a process,
which should not be fast-forwarded or ignored. Change will occur, and we are all
better served when accompanied on that journey through planning, empathy and