Life is full of change; some we are able to plan and prepare for, while others take us by surprise and we have to adjust to new situations. How well we are able to do this will depend to a great extent on the resilience that we have built up during our lives. This is no different for young children; just as for adults, there are changes that they have no control over, and others that they may be able to have some input into. The issues will be different for every child but we all recognise that transition times are potentially difficult for young children and their families.

Why transitions are so significant
In order for children to have the resilience to deal with significant life changes, practitioners must ensure that they are supported to deal successfully with the daily transitions they experience. The significance of ‘small’ changes for young children should not be underestimated.

It is important to be clear that transitions happen and affect young children long before they move to their foundation class, whether or not they attend an early years setting. Those of you who are parents will be aware of the effects of moving a child, from a cot to a bed for example. For some children this may cause disturbed sleep for a number of nights followed by grumpy days, and behaviour may change while the child adjusts to the new bed and the independence that it affords. Other children will take it in their stride and there may be no noticeable effects on them.

In a recent report, Early Intervention: The Next Steps, Graham Allen MP highlighted the significance of ensuring that the ‘social and emotional bedrock’ is in place for all children in order that they can reach their full potential. He emphasises the importance of good communication between parents, settings and other professionals, in order to support children in the expectation that they become successful members of society.

The EYFS framework places a statutory obligation on practitioners to share information with parents and other agencies, including other providers, in order to ensure continuity as children encounter transitions in their lives. Children who are struggling to manage the complex emotions that may arise during transitions are unlikely to be able to become deeply involved in play and exploration in their settings, and so will not benefit fully from the opportunities that are available to them.

The Common Core of Skills and Knowledge (for practitioners working with children from 0-19) draws attention to the significance of transitions:

‘It is important to understand a child or young person in the context of their everyday lives, and to recognise the impact of transitions they may be going through or where they are struggling to cope.’

With all this guidance in mind, practitioners must address themselves to the question of how they can support children to become resilient, capable and self-assured, in order that they can deal with the transitions they will face in the foundation stage and beyond.

Types of transitions
Predictable transitions (children and adults can be prepared for these)


  • Crawling
  • Stopping use of a dummy
  • Toilet training


  • Moving house
  • Changing rooms in setting
  • Rearrangement of room in setting
  • Attendance at multiple settings

Significant people

  • Changes with the people who live with them
  • Key Person shift patterns
  • Collected by different person
Unpredictable changes (when there is no time to prepare the child)  
  • Family bereavement
  • Collected early/late
  • Setting closed at last minute 

The role of the Key Person in transitions

The relationship developed between the Key Person and the parents/carers involved in the child’s life beyond the setting is crucial in ensuring that children are supported to make successful transitions.

In many settings this relationship will commence with an induction visit at which the Key Person begins to complete the setting’s documentation with the parents. This will often include finding out about a child’s likes and dislikes, favourite toys and how he or she likes to be comforted, as well as current routines. Parents and carers are encouraged to share information that can help the practitioner to understand behaviour changes caused by transitions.

It is also important that the Key Person shares details of the setting’s policy and practice with the parents to inform them about the transition into the setting. Sometimes transitions within the setting can be a cause for concern for parents who may become worried about how their child will cope with, for example, a room change. The Key Person will need to ensure that parents are fully informed about the management of the transition, the visits the child makes to the new room in preparation for the move and details about routines and expectations in the new environment so parents can support their child with the transition process.

Recognising ‘transition anxiety’
Practitioners must ensure that they learn to recognise the signs of transition anxiety in the children that they care for. This may be particularly difficult when many of the children concerned do not yet have the language to explain the experiences that they are finding difficult. Skilled practitioners will learn to listen to children’s body language and other changes in behaviour that indicate children who are struggling to cope. They will reflect on the behaviour they see and consider whether something has changed for the child.

‘Naughtiness’ or transition anxiety?
A colleague explained to me that in her setting the staff had noticed that a certain child was craving the undivided attention of her Key Person more than usual. When the staff considered why this might be, they realised that the child had just learnt to use the potty. The team reached the conclusion that, while this was a positive development for the child, she was missing the one-to-one time with her Key Person that she had had at nappy-changing time. Once the cause was recognised, the Key Person ensured that she spent some individual time with the child. Less reflective practitioners may have put this behaviour down to ‘naughtiness’ without considering the underlying reason for it and so missed an opportunity to support the child with the transition process.

Transition as a process, not an event

Where possible, transitions are most successful when they are part of a process, not an event. Consider which of the procedures below is likely to support the child to manage giving up a dummy:

  • The practitioner decides that they cannot hear what a child is saying because of his dummy. The dummy is taken from the child the moment that the parent has left.


  • Practitioner and parents talk about how they can work together to help a child reduce the use of his dummy to sleep times only. They agree that this would be beneficial, and explain to the child what will happen. The Key Person ensures that the child is supported and that he or she is available to comfort the child should he need it.

The importance of clear communication
Children will experience a range of transitions. Some will be common to the majority of their peers and they may be able to support each other. Others will be unique to the child or family involved and children may feel isolated. With information from parents or carers the Key Person will be able to play a significant role in supporting the child during the transition process. An ongoing dialogue between the Key Person and the family will help ensure a consistency of approach for the child.

The three main areas in which transitions take place are shown in the table below. For each area, a few of many possible examples are given. Consideration of each of the areas highlights once again the significance of clear detailed communication between all those involved in the care and education of the child. If the transitions are understood by everyone any change in the child’s behaviour can be understood and the child supported appropriately.

Knowledge of the facts
Children engage in imaginative thinking when they try to find answers to the things that happen around them. Practitioners encourage them to be creative in their thinking; however, imaginative thinking can lead to upset when children do not have all the facts to help them understand particular situations. Practitioners who ensure that children are aware of changes that are going to happen will support children to manage the transition well. Children will be able to imagine the ‘new situation’ based on knowledge of the facts.

For example, many children who attend full day care will experience changes in personnel as staff change shifts during the course of the day. Being explicit about where staff are going can help children to control the emotions they feel as their Key Person leaves for the day, or even goes to take their lunch break. Consider which of the following approaches to staff holidays is likely to support the children in the setting to deal with transitions:

  • Staff in the setting do not mention that a member of the team is on holiday. A child goes home upset, telling his parent that ‘Susan’ has gone away forever.


  • Staff in the setting prepare children for the fact that they will be going on holiday by showing them a map and pictures of their destination. They talk about how many sleeps it will be until they are back at work. While they are away children are engaged in conversation speculating in the experiences the staff member might be enjoying.

Getting it right
Practitioners will want to ensure that everyone involved in transitions is consulted, and that all parties’ opinions are valued. This is important for all transitions, and if done well will help to ensure that:

  • The child knows what is going to happen and what is expected of him or her – he or she will feel in control of the transition and will be listened to, welcomed and feel safe and secure in his or her environment.
  • Parents feel involved and heard, and the knowledge that they hold of their child will be valued. Their concerns about transitions that take place in the setting will be heard and responded to.
  • The staff of the setting are confident that they have the full picture of the child’s individual experiences, and so are able to offer support grounded in knowledge.
  • Working documents are used to record agreed strategies for transition, and will be referred to and updated as appropriate.
  • Other professionals are involved where they hold knowledge that will aid transition.


Menna Godfrey is a day nursery owner/manager and EYPS tutor/mentor for Best Practice Network