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Managing Transitions

by Dr. Susan Canizares | September 8, 2016 | Child Development

shutterstock_362082206Like most adults, children are creatures of habit. Transitions from one activity to another can be difficult. Children who are asked to stop doing something they enjoy and to start a different activity may exhibit difficult behaviors. These behaviors can take the form of tantrums, avoidance, resistance, whining, or negotiation (“Can I have just 5 more minutes?”).

Some of these reactions are due to the child feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Other times, the negative behavior has successfully worked in the past to delay or prevent the transition from happening. The resulting conflicts can be stressful for both parents and children.

Tip 1: Use specific words.

Remember, children do not always have a good understanding of time. To most children, there is often no difference between 5 minutes or 20! It’s important to use words such as “now,” “then,” and “next” when talking to a child who has difficulty with transitions. For example, “Now you are playing with your dolls. Next we will go eat lunch, and then we will go to the store.” Explaining the day as a sequence of events can help eliminate stress and problem behaviors.

Tip 2: Use visual cues.

Also, children are visual learners and can benefit from cues they can see. Creating a visual schedule to show the daily routine can assist young children in knowing what transitions are coming. Visual schedules are used in our classrooms and can easily be adapted to use at home.

As a parent, there are many other things you can do to help your child negotiate everyday transitions. For example, developing a consistent bedtime routine provides an expected structure that may help children feel less stress. Children who have a predictable rhythm in their day are more likely to feel secure and be cooperative.

Other ways to help children with transitions include:

·     Look for natural pauses in their activities. This way they have already started to think about moving on to something different.

·     When a child is fussing about a transition, talk to them. Ask questions about their feelings. Do they need to use the restroom? Are they hungry? Are they feeling anxious or nervous? Sometimes you find the source of the challenging behavior is something simple.

·     Give your child plenty of verbal warning. For example: “When you are finished playing your game, we will be going to the grocery store.”

Finally, remember to acknowledge your child when you see her transitioning effectively. Be enthusiastic and specific. For example, say something like, “I really liked how you turned off the television right away and got your pajamas on. Now we have time to read two books instead of just one!” 

Help your child see that the positive outcomes she enjoys are directly connected to her actions. This empowers children to be more responsible and intrinsically motivated.