Transitions can be a challenge for all children, and even some adults. Imagine you just reached the most exciting part of a brand new movie, and then you’re told you have to turn it off to go do chores. That’s how children feel all day. And, often times, this feeling is even worse for a child with autism or ADHD. Children have difficulty with transitions because they don’t want to leave their current activity, they don’t like to feel out of control, and they don’t like to feel that they have no say in their day. The following strategies will help with your child’s frustration and anxiety with transitions.
An easy way to help your child with transitions is to stick to a routine. Have a structured day so your child knows what and when to expect the next activity. If there is going to be a change in the routine, be sure to tell your child ahead of time so he can prepare for the change. Visual schedules can be very helpful for a young child to understand the structure of the day.
Many times a child will feel especially frustrated when they have to stop what they’re doing without any warning. An easy way to fix this, is to give your child ample notice that an activity will be ending soon. A timer can be a great tool for transitions, “I’m going to set the timer for 5 minutes, and then we’ll need to clean up the toys. Would you like to push start on the timer, or should I?”
Younger children don’t have time references, so be mindful of the time warnings you give. Consider giving warnings like, “When you’ve finished your snack, we are going to drive your sister to soccer practice.”
Transition time can often lead to tantrums and outbursts because your child feels that he doesn’t have control over the situation. One way to help this feeling is by giving your child choices. Think about two parent-approved choices that you feel comfortable with, and offer these to your child. For example, you might say, “After we make the bed, it is time for breakfast. Would you like to eat oatmeal or cereal?” By giving your child the choice, he will feel empowered over the decision, and is less likely to have a tantrum.
Use Transition Activities
Transition activities are a tried and true way of having your child transition from activities successfully. The key to a transition activity is that you want to take away the pressure of the transition and make it an enjoyable moment.
One well known transition activity is music. “The Clean Up Song” is a great way to have your child pick up his toys. There are also other songs that you can use to help your child brush his teeth, get dressed, etc. For older children, you can also play a song and say, “We will have our shoes, coats, and backpacks on by the time this song ends, and then play a fun family song.”
In addition to music, there are other ways to implement transition activities. For example, if you are leaving the mall, you can say, “Let’s count how many red cars we can find in the parking lot.” When going up to bed at the end of the night, you can say, “Let’s count how many steps it takes to get to the bathtub.” Or, when leaving the playground, you can say, “Do you think you can find a yellow leaf on the way to the car?”
Transitions can be troublesome for many kids, but these strategies can be extremely helpful to prevent the outbursts and tantrums many children experience.