Oftentimes, kiddos who have little-to-no language and/or who struggle with sensory challenges also struggle with transitions. That said, many children regardless of these factors struggle with transitions.
So what does this look like? A transition takes place anytime your child is expected to move from one activity to another. They are hardest when your little one is expected to go from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity.
So how can you make it easier for you and your little one to handle transitions?
Here are some tips that I share with families on a regular basis.
- Give choices. The key here is to give your child two choices that you are okay with. For example, you might ask, do you want milk or water? This gives your child a sense of control over their world since they are making the decision about what they want, while you are structuring it for them in a way that they can feel successful. Limit the choices to just two, because more can overwhelm (rather than give them more freedom). This is one powerful tip right here!
- Give warnings. Give a 2-minute and then a 1-minute warning before a transition (e.g., “in X minutes it will be time to go home”). Start here and you can always move to a 5-minute warning if you think that might be more successful (but then you will have more reminders to stay on top of before the transition occurs). This helps them prepare for the transition ahead of time so they are not surprised when it comes time to leave and make the transition.
- Use a Timer. This tip can be paired with the above tip. Set a timer on your phone or iPad (there is a great visual timer on the iPad where your child can see the red time filling up the clock, which shows them how much time they have left), or use a visual timer at home to help your child understand what you mean when you say you have 2-minutes left. You can get them for $15-20 online. These visuals in addition to hearing is a very successful strategy for many little ones.
- Use picture schedules. This is often seen in the school environment but it should be used at home as well. Putting your child’s daily schedule into pictures will help them understand what they have already done, what is left to do and what happens next.
- Use transition objects. Some children benefit from carrying a “lovie” or a favorite object with them to help them feel less anxious and more comfortable going from one activity to the next. This often works when the other strategies are in place but your child is still struggling. Give it a try!
- Limit unnecessary transitions. If your child is having fun playing and they are content and there aren’t other children waiting for a turn, don’t interrupt your child to come try something else in the playroom or on the playground. Many of our kiddos like to engage in routines that repeat; this is enjoyable for them. Let them play in their own way when they aren’t in a structured play setting. They need downtime to be children! Additionally, if you give them time to engage in something they love, make sure they have enough time to really enjoy it before trying to transition them away from that preferred activity to something less preferred.
- Evaluate your schedules. Yes, your schedules: your child’s and yours. This suggestion is usually less popular but it is key to making your life easier. Start tracking how often you ask your child to transition during a single day. When you have a child involved in school, therapies, and other activities, and then you add on your errands and more, this wears on your child. Each of these leads to another transition (and often times more meltdowns). Try to cut out the ones that are not necessary so that you are not overscheduling your child. It will make a big difference and you should see tantrums decrease once you have struck a balance.
It is my hope that you can use some or all of these strategies to make your life easier! Transitions can be tough but with these tools in your tool belt you are ready to take on the challenge!
Let us know which strategies you have tried and/or if you have other strategies to add to the list.