6 Tips to Help Your Child With Transitioning
Updated: Mar 16
My child loves a routine. Most spirited kids do and become dysregulated when the routine is disrupted or they are asked to move too quickly from one activity to another.
I didn't realise this for a while, however. It felt like I was battling with my daughter every day over everything - getting dressed, having a bath, getting out of the bath, moving to the dinner table, you get the picture. And admittedly, I did resort to yelling when asking her to do these nicely wasn't working. I just assumed, like many people, that she was deliberately being difficult and pushing my buttons. It was so frustrating!
I figured there had to be a different way and signed up to have some parent coaching. And I was so impressed with the changes I was seeing that I trained to be a coach myself.
Now I use strategies during times of transition and try to stick to a set routing as much as possible (although the pandemic has really flipped the routine on its head, so there are definitely times where it goes out the window). It takes effort at first and a shift in your perception of your child's behaviour, moving from seeing them as giving you a hard time to having a hard time, but it does become more second nature in time.
Here are 5 things you can do to make transitions easier:
1. Giving them a warning of what’s going to happen. Start the day with letting your child know what to expect throughout the day. For example, 'in the morning we're going to be doing some homework, then we'll go outside for a bit, then we'll have lunch, etc.'
Then give them reminders before the next event and some time for them to prepare themselves for the change. Like, 'we're going to be eating dinner in 10 minutes so start putting your toys away' or set alarms. Or, 'in 5 minutes it will be bath time. I'll set the timer and when it beeps, it's time to go in there.' This gives them an opportunity to gradually wind down what they’re doing or playing with.
2. Establish a routine. Try to have set times when everything happens. I know it's not always possible, but spirited children thrive on routines. For example, set a time when they get up, then following the same pattern in the morning: go to the bathroom, brush teeth, then have breakfast, then get dressed. and so on. If plans change, explain why. Maybe there are days when the routine isn’t the same or so ridged (like the weekends). Let them know what to expect in advance. Try to keep up routines as much as possible, even if children are at home due to the pandemic.
3. Use empathy and validate their feelings. Say 'you wanted to play longer and you seem frustrated that you can't, but we need to leave now.'
4. Use a ritual or signal to help in transitions. Music is great for this... This is what they do often at pre-school and school (e.g. tidy up song). Rituals can provide children with enough security to move into a different activity more smoothly.
5. Realise your child's rhythm and work with it. If they don’t like waiting too long, have something they can play with. If they’re not morning people, try to build in time in the morning so you’re not rushing. If they will need to be somewhere sitting still for a while, schedule in movement breaks.
As an example here, last month I took my daughter to meet Santa. I knew there would be a lot of rooms to go through before she got to the end of the experience and they all had lights, animatronic characters, music and people. I know my daughter is sensitive and can get easily overwhelmed so I told her about what she would experience along the way in advance and said to her that she can let me know if it’s getting to be too much for her by coming over and squeezing my hand and we would move more quickly through. I also knew once we got towards the end we’d have to wait in line and she’d get antsy so I brought a small tub of playdough with me in my pocket.
To my surprise, she got through without squeezing my hand but I did need to get the playdough out in the line at the end. However, I truly believe, and based on past experience, if I didn’t brief her before we went in and didn't have something for her to play with while she waiting in line, she would’ve become very easily dysregulated. I can even recall instances in my own childhood where I was taken places by my parents, didn’t know what to expect, and it all ended in tears.
Finally, I want to talk about Hot button triggers. These are triggers that cause big emotions in children (and adults). Being hungry, friends coming over, crowds, feeling tired, being told no rather than being given choices, yelling, transitions, feeling too hot or too cold. Anticipate hot button triggers and try to make them as smooth as possible. For example, if a friend is coming over and your child doesn’t like to share, hide their favourite toys away. Keep snacks on hand for when they get hungry. Give them a ‘get out’ signal if they need a break from crowds or noises when out. This again is about anticipating what might cause your child to become dysregulated and having a plan to help them with their uncomfortable emotions.
Let me know what works for you and your children in the comments!