The Cheers and Tears of Transitions
by Amy Diller

When your little one enters the world and you transition to parenthood, all kinds of thoughts bounce around in your mind. Juggling diapers, round-the-clock feedings, and crying (theirs and yours) overtake life as you knew it. You look forward to your child learning to walk, talk, feed themselves, sleep through the night, and step out of the diaper phase. Even though these milestones are exciting, you will shed tears. Tears that celebrate the moments as well as tears over the fact that your child is leaving his or her baby stage. From preschool to the elementary years and eventually middle school, your role as a parent is to become your child’s biggest cheerleader and source of instruction and guidance through some big changes.


Throughout their lives, children experience a number of important transitions. They can feel both excited and anxious, while their parents often join them in these emotions. The heart-pinch of saying goodbye to the previous stage and the overwhelming unpreparedness of navigating new changes can be an uncertain time for you. Acknowledge all your emotions and validate those of your child. Always remember your child will take cues from you about how to feel. Make sure you present the positives of growing up so your child can anticipate this big change.


One of the first big life transitions is your child entering preschool. For maybe the first time in your life, you relinquish your little one to the care of other adults on a regular basis. The anticipation of the big day can be exciting and nerve-wracking for you. Your child doesn’t have any concept of the change to come, and he or she will need you to walk through what things will look like for them. Visit the preschool before the first day; you and your child will enjoy seeing the inviting spaces together. Focus on the positives your child will get to enjoy, like meeting new friends and learning new things. Your tone sets the stage for this transition.


Another big transition for parents and younger children is starting elementary school. Unlike preschool, where your child is only apart from you for a limited time, elementary-aged children begin their role as full-time students. The idea that your precious ones will be away from you all day, Monday through Friday, can be anxiety-provoking. Suddenly your child will be surrounded by kids and teachers you may not know, and outside influences will play a larger role. It will be a time for you to get to know teachers and peers as your child is doing the same. As with preschool, your child will pick up on your feelings regarding this transition. If you are nervous or anxious, their own similar feelings may become bigger. If you point out the positives of them starting elementary school, chances are he or she will adopt the same outlook. Talk about the new things your child will get to do, such as making good friends (for more info on this, see April’s blog post), being part of a classroom of peers, and interacting with the teacher. Make sure they know you want to hear all of the good things about school and also will be a safe place to be loved when things are difficult. As often as you can, volunteer for activities at your child’s school. It’s a terrific way to get to know staff, other parents, and your child’s friends.


One of the most beautiful things to plan for in this phase of life is your child’s spiritual growth. You get a front-seat view of what’s unfolding in their lives as well as the opportunity to help him or her begin to make their faith their own. Continuing to learn who God is, what He’s done for us, talking to Him, and asking questions gives you the opportunity to help him or her mature in the Lord. Give your child the opportunity to wonder and question; it’s one of the best ways to learn new things.


During these years, your child may become interested in salvation and/or baptism. As parents, we have the tendency to want to hurry these decisions along. This isn’t necessarily the wrong approach, but it can be much more meaningful for your child to lead the way, indicating a readiness to make a step of faith. In preparation, help your child understand the consequences of sin, the forgiveness offered through the sacrifice of Jesus, and the abundant life He talks about. When they indicate an interest in becoming a Christian, be prepared to walk them through how to be a child of God and assist them in prayer. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have the “right” words to say – the best words come from your own relationship with Jesus. It doesn’t have to be flowery, just sincere.


The same thing is true of baptism. Make sure your child is old enough to express an understanding of the reason for baptism as well as being able to remember their baptism experience. Don’t worry if your child isn’t ready for this just yet; as they continue to hear about a personal relationship with the Lord and learn more about the Bible, they’ll very likely come to a point of decision. These important steps may occur early for elementary kids, but they also may take place in the tween or teen years. Keep praying for and with them, reading God’s word together, entertaining even the toughest questions about God, and showing them through your own life what it means to be a disciple of Christ.


One last, and possibly the biggest, transitional time is when your child enters middle school. The world of hormones, definite preferences, thinking they know as much or more than you, the awkwardness of being in between childhood and the teen years, and possibly being interested in the opposite sex can be stressful for you and for your child. At times, they’ll want to be little; at other times, they’ll yearn to be treated older. Yours becomes a delicate dance to keep up with their wildly vacillating thoughts and emotions and to point them in the right direction in wisdom and love. You still have the most influence in their lives; don’t relinquish that role to teachers, church leaders, or your child’s peers – you are their primary teacher and spiritual leader; everyone else should be secondary.


Parenting is a wild, thrilling, frightening, and exciting role. As your child grows and experiences transition points in their lives, you will, too. Lean into the Lord and pray for your child and ask Him for the wisdom you need in order to navigate every stage. Find people who have been through the phase you’re in, as well as those who are in it with you. They’ll have experience to share along with the same questions you’re asking. Look to your children’s church leaders for resources and support. And amongst the tears that inevitably come as you watch your child grow, celebrate the person the Lord gave you and the transition points you’ll go through along with your child.