Transition Spaces for Kids

Children are in a constant state of transition. Kids are transitioning throughout the day at school, at home from dinner to bedtime, at home while getting ready for school, and again going to and from play time.  When a family goes through a divorce, this adds another transition for a child to understand and to adapt to.

Children can feel lost during their parents’ divorce, especially when the parents are focused on the legal and financial aspect of divorce. This can often leave the child feeling unnoticed and as if there is no one to support or acknowledge their feelings. 

When the kids return from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home, they can often experience mixed feelings.  If things went well at the custodial parent’s home, the child may arrive at the other parent’s home calmly.  However, when there is stress at one parent’s home, the child may struggle to visit that parent’s home. They may also hold on to those negative emotions when return home to the other parent.  When that happens, they may act out that stress directly or indirectly toward the other parent. 

It is important to create some transition spaces for children to feel safe enough to express their feelings in healthy ways. This can help to prevent the child from holding on to negative emotions and acting out at home or at school. When the child does express intense emotions, however, it is important that the child then engages in self-regulation techniques.  Self-regulation involves calming the entire physical and emotional system to support internal peace for the child. 

Some examples of safe spaces can include:

  • A corner in the child’s bedroom.
  • A section in a living space.
  • A guest room.
  • The entrance into the home.
  • A designated basement space.
  • A designated space in a garage.

Wherever such a space is created, the space should have items that the child identifies as calming, such as a favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, or any item that can be used to express their big emotions.

In addition to calming tools, the child may also need some items to help them express their many feelings. If it is not possible to leave the items in the transitional space, then they can be kept in a storage container that can be made available to the child when needed.

Some examples of items to have available can include:

  • Crayons and paper.
  • Pillows (large and small).
  • Foam balls.
  • Play dough, model magic, or slime.
  • Sensory items – things to see, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Pool noodles.
  • Favorite stuffed animals or blanket.
  • Weighted blankets.

Crayons will allow kids to draw their feelings onto paper and then tape it to a door or wall.  Foam balls can be used to toss at the emotion drawing. Kids could also say what and who they are angry or upset with as they toss the ball at their emotion drawing.  The pillows can be used for punching or hitting with the pool noodle as the child says what they are angry, jealous, or fearful about.  The pillows can also be used to scream the anger into for the energy release.  All these techniques offer kids a safe and controlled environment to express their feelings and talk about their emotions.

Similarly, stuffed animals, blankets, music, and weighted blankets allow for more comforting self-regulation after utilizing the more expressive techniques listed above.  Some children may also want the parent to hold them at this stage. 

Additional ways to support your child can include:

  • Asking your child/children what they would like to have in this safe transition space.
  • Preparing the child/children to go to that space when they transition back to the custodial parent’s home.
  • Ensuring that the child/children have as much privacy as possible in your home.
  • Encouraging your child/children to try new tools before they need them. For example, invite them to use a pool noodle to hit a pillow and say something that they feel upset about. Or invite them to yell it into a pillow. This will help them feel more comfortable using the tools.
  • Validating their feelings for and with them.
  • Creating the transitions space as part of their routine for transitions.

Each parent’s home is a completely different world for the child, and the child will need to manage their big feelings about the change and the two different home settings.  The transition space provides them a safe place to express the emotional weight they are carrying from one home to the other.  Over time, this space can become a part of their routine and a space that they look forward to being in and releasing difficult feelings and thoughts. 

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