Through out our lives we are confronted by changes. People, places and even our own bodies change. We are faced by ongoing periods of transition as things alter from how they were to how they are now. Transitions can positively or negatively impact on children and young people’s development depending on how they are supported and the change is managed.
There are several types of transition children and young people face, including, emotional, physical, physiological, and intellectual that if not correctly handled can have a negative impact on development.
Bereavement The loss of a loved one, a pet (close deaths) or even the death of a famous person that is well documented in the media (detached deaths), can raise a maelstrom of emotions in a child. They may be fearful about what is going to happen to them and scared that they, or someone they are close to, might die next. They may feel confused about what has happened and why it is happened.
They could feel guilty that they are still alive or blame themselves in some way for the loss. They may feel sadness and grief or even anger about the loss. These emotions can manifest themselves in behavioural changes as they can have a profound effect on the Childs sense of security. An outgoing child may become quiet and withdrawn, a child may stop eating, and they may be unable to sleep, or become aggressive. They may need help and support to understand what has happened and learn to accept the change.
Entering or leaving care Being placed into care or moving from the care environment to live with foster or adopted parents can be a challenging transition for many children and young people. They are being moved from a familiar environment into the unknown. They may feel frighten about what is going to happen to them, angry if they have been made to leave their parental home, or being separated from siblings. They may feel confused about why they are moving into care, or just unhappy and resentful about the change. This change can also means a physical transition because the child or young person may also have to deal with going to a new school, and establishing new network of friends. If well managed this can be positive transition. If the child is moved from an unstable, neglected home to a stable, warm and loving one, it can have a good emotional effect and improve their sense of security and self worth.
Divorce/ Family Breakdown
Changes to family circumstances can have a profound effect on children. Separation or Divorce can leave the child with a sense of bereavement, like they have lost one of their parents. They may feel angry or confused and worried about what will happen to them in the future. They may also feel that they are in some way to blame for the family breakdown so carry a burden of guilt. These negative emotions may lead to a lack of concentration at school, or exhibits themselves as withdrawn or aggressive behaviours.
In cases where a family breakdown is caused because on of the adults have been abusive and/or violent to the other this can be a positive transition as the child or young person will be taken out of a difficult home environment.
Moving house or area This physical transition can have an emotional impact on a child as they may be moving away from family and established friendships to an unknown place. They may be worried that they won’t ‘fit in’ and make new friends. They may grieve for their old life and home, or be angry and resentful that they have been forced to make this change. They could also feel frustrated as the change in circumstance was beyond their control.
Moving Country A child may have no previous educational experience as they have moved from a country where formal education begins at a later age. They may suffer from ‘culture shock’ if they have gone from a small village in an undeveloped country to a highly developed fast paced one. The strangeness of a new country may leave them unsettled and confused. They may feel excluded as they do not understand how to behave in a new culture and may have a language barrier to overcome. This can also be a positive transition as the child may go from an environment with no access to education and to one that offers them the possibility to develop in new and exciting ways.
Travelling Communities The children of travelling communities may face the same transitional issues as those who come from a different cultural background, and have to face a new school, and different peers. They may find it hard to establish new or meaningful friendships because of their itinerant lifestyle.
Moving from one activity to another A child may find it difficult to change activity if they are particularly absorbed in what they are doing and resent the change. They may not fully engage in the new activity because they are unhappy about the change over and therefore deny themselves a development opportunity. This can sometimes be a positive transition too, when a child is moved from an activity in which they struggle to one in which they excel.
Puberty The transition from child to adult is a landmark stage in everyone’s development and can have a massive effect on both emotions and behaviour. Young people are not only changing physically in a way that they may feel unhappy about or unready for, their sexual awareness is developing. They may have to confront issues about their sexual orientation or gender. They may be fearful of moving into the adult world, of growing responsibility for their future. Hormonal changes can affect their relationships with their family and friends.
Long term medical conditions If a child or young person becomes disabled through illness or accident, they may have to be out of their normal educational environment for protracted periods of time. This can affect their rate of development. They will have to cope with and adjust to a different lifestyle possibly limited by the physical changes the illness or accident has caused. They may need to be educated in hospital for a while, or be in and out of hospital which can affect their friendships networks and the consistency of their education.
Moving from pre-school to primary to secondary The transition from one stage of education to the next can be challenges as children often move from being the ‘big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a very big pond’. This leads to feelings of uncertainty because they are unfamiliar with the new surroundings, people and routines. They may be anxious about moving to a more challenging environment and having to be ‘more grown up’ and deal with a different set of adult the expectations about their behaviour. Younger children might exhibit signs of clinginess or regression. They may have difficulty sleeping, lose their appetite, become withdrawn or show challenging behaviours.