Transitions can be hard – from minor ones, like getting everyone out the door before the bus drives by, to major ones, like a cross-country move. But there are ways to keep your family feeling (relatively) calm, even amid change. 

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Preeti Sandhu, PsyD, has tips.

1. Timeouts aren’t just for kids, so take time for yourself.

Learning to cope with change is important for everyone’s well-being. For kids, this process starts early, and it starts with you: From a very young age, children pay attention to and pick up on their caregivers’ emotions and body language. If you’re anxious, they may begin to tense up. If you’re mad, they may start to shut down.

Use this as motivation to take care of yourself during times of change.

For instance, you might be tempted to sacrifice your workout to get the dishes done. Instead, stop to weigh the pros and cons. Is getting exercise important to you? Take time for it.

At other times, your top priority may need to be shutting yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to take some deep breaths. When you come back to the situation, you’re ready to be your child’s rock.

Taking time for yourself helps you be at your best for your family. And it’s an opportunity to model self-care to your child.

2. Don’t forget the value of play for toddlers and young children.

This works in all kinds of situations.

Next time you have a hectic morning getting your family out the door, turn the transition from home to car into a game. Sing together, play “I spy,” set an app on your phone to ask 100 questions about space, or bet on who will be the first person to see a red car.

You can turn a walk into a race, daily chores into a relay… the possibilities are endless. If you make it fun, I promise your kids will follow. Sometimes an eye roll with a smile means you’re doing something right.

This applies to more stressful situations, too, like waiting out a tornado warning or taking your child to the doctor. In moments of high stress, play can be integral to regulating kids’ emotions.

> Related: 16 Comfort Items to Bring to Your Child’s Doctor Appointment 

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A dad helps his child put their backpack on

3. Stick to your child’s usual routines and limits.

When we see our child struggling, we want to offer comfort. Sometimes, we think that means doing something special, like heading out for ice cream.

That’s OK once in awhile, but remember that your child’s usual routines are comforting in their own way. Within that familiar structure, they have an easier time learning how to regulate their emotions.

So during times of change, stick to your child’s usual routines and limits as much as possible – like homework at the normal time, keeping to a certain amount of screen time, and standard wake and bed times.

4. Create space for feelings- for kids of all ages.

Maybe a family member is moving into the home, or your family is staying at a hotel while the house is under construction. Your child may have a lot of feelings about that. Don’t avoid those feelings. Emotions can be clues!

Teach your child to listen and pay attention to feelings of nervousness, worry, panic and even anger. Encourage them to pause and notice what they feel, and allow them space to work through why they’re feeling it. Help them realize that emotions ebb and flow, worsened by fatigue or stress, but they always eventually pass.

You can also guide your child to try different coping activities, and help them figure out what works best. Maybe your child wants to watch a show to calm down. After one episode, check back in and see if they feel better. If not, suggest a new task, like asking them to help you set the table or color in the kitchen.

> Related: 10 Quick Tips to Help Your Child Reset From Stress

5. Listen and validate.

You can provide lots of comfort to your child by getting on their level, making eye contact, and showing them you’re there to listen.

You may be tempted to jump in right away with a solution or response: Don’t. Instead, try counting to five on your fingers before responding.

In that pause, your child might reveal a worry that you didn’t suspect. Then you can become a team to work through it together.

> Related: How to Check On Your Child’s Mental Health

6. Offer choices.

By offering a choice, you build your child’s sense of control.

For smaller transitions, like leaving the house for school, this may mean presenting a choice between two things you already need your child to do. For example, “You can put on your jacket or you can get your backpack from the other room. Which one do you want to do first?”

For larger transitions, like a move, your child may feel a lack of control in all the big changes. Think about any smaller choices that you can offer. Maybe you ask them to pick their room in the new house, or if there’s wiggle room in the moving schedule, weigh in on which day to move.

> Related: What Your Child Needs to Get Through Tough Times

7. Don’t forget the value of a hug!

Get cheesy! Give your teen a bear hug. Praise your child when they transition from school to home without a battle to start homework. Take time at dinner to celebrate something awesome that your child did that day.

Praise is your best friend. It can help regulate everyone when life feels challenging or unpredictable.