A Few Simple Tips on Handling Transitions with Your Kids

You’re finishing up your coffee talk at your best friend’s house while your kids play joyously together in the next room. When it’s time to go, you get that sick feeling in your stomach because it means another battle with your little one. Every time you have to end one activity and go on to the next, whether it be outside time, school, or nap time, you never know how big of a fight you will have to put up. When kids don’t transition well, it is draining on the parents and any other person involved in the care taking. From a kid’s perspective, imagine you are engrossed in your favorite hobby or really good book and someone interrupts you to tend to something else. OK, who are we kidding? Most parents experience this every day! So, you know how frustrating that can be and hard it is to pull yourself away. For kids, it’s even worse because they don’t see the bigger picture, it is not by choice, and they don’t yet have the skills to deal with these emotions and disappointments. Hopefully I can offer a few tips to make these moments a little smoother. If you have tried any others, please share!

  • Give them a warning of the upcoming transition. Let them know they have 5 minutes left, then 3 minutes. A visual works best in this case because kids are not the best judges of time. You can also use quantities, such as “you can go down the swing two more times,” or “after your turn on the game it will be time to leave.” Here are some options for the visual timers. I use the simple egg timer, sand timer, or the alarm on my phone (nothing fancy with me!).

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  • Make transitions as short as needed, depending on your child’s needs and developmental level. For example, if I have a kid who really struggles with leaving the play room, I may tell him we are first going to walk to the edge of the stairs. Once we are there, I check in with him again and point to where we are going next. Eventually, this child will not need such small increments, but we need to meet the child where they are, not where we think they should be.
  • Give them verbal praise for small progresses they make in transitions. If your child usually takes 5 times of your telling him to do something, but today he only took 4, tell him you noticed how he listened and went faster today! If your child usually tantrums, full blown on the ground, but today it was more of a whine but no tantrum, give them verbal praise for keeping himself calm and following you quicker today.
  • Make the next stop exciting if possible. For example, if you are leaving a play date to get lunch, tell them “We get to go to Chick-fil-a and you can pick out the strips or the sandwich!” This gives them something to look forward to. If it is something like going to school, say “let’s go show Ms. Nancy your drawing you did this morning!”
  • For bigger transitions, like moving to a new house, having a new baby, or getting a dog, talk to them about what will happen. I also recommend reading books to them or doing an art activity. I talked with one mom who was worried about their upcoming move into a new house. She decided to draw a picture of the new house with her daughter and said she could see her getting really excited, especially when she drew her own room!
 Again, I hope I am able to give you some easy tips to try with transitions. Please feel free to share any others you have tried and any other questions or comments you have!
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