By Raising Children Network
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Stopping one thing and starting another – it happens all through the day, every day, in the life of families.

Children don’t always find it easy to move from one activity to the next. Sometimes children are completely absorbed in what they’re doing (which is great!) and don’t want to stop. But they still need to make transitions.

Here are some ideas on how to make transitions smoother and less likely to result in tension and stress.

Tips for handling transitions

  • Set up a predictable family routine. This is likely to help with daily transitions. Children come to expect and accept change better when they know it’s coming.
  • Explain what’s happening to your child before you make a start on the day, or set out of the house. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help stop children – especially older children – from having unrealistic expectations.
  • Choose your timing. If you can, stop one thing and start another during a natural break in your child’s activity. Being sensitive to where children are at and what they’re doing can make transition easier for you both.
  • Try to avoid abrupt changes in activity. Give your child some warning about any change of activity coming up. For example, ‘Derek, you have five more minutes to play. Then it will be time to go home’.
  • Avoid implying that a transition is something a child can choose if it isn’t. For example, when you say, ‘Orla, would you like to pack up those toys now?’ you suggest a choice. Instead, you could say, ‘Orla, you can start packing up those toys now’.
  • See whether you can make transitions fun. For example, ‘Can you march like a soldier to the car?’ or ‘How about we play Eye Spy on the trip home?’
  • Ease transitions by allowing your child to take something along. For example, ‘Evie, we have to go the car in a minute. You can take one toy with you. Which one will it be?’
  • Point out any good things your child can look forward to following the transition. For example, ‘If we leave now, we’ll have time to pick up a DVD to watch tonight’.
  • If your child finds transitions particularly challenging, consider building more time into each activity. This is to allow for the extra time your child needs to adjust.
  • Praise your child for handling transitions well. Emphasise how good it is when you both work together as a team.
  • Start with something easy, and then build up some steam. The first step is often the hardest. You can also build momentum by enthusiastically helping to get your child started. For example, ‘Let me help you get that bag packed, and then we can do your hair and teeth!’
  • It’s OK if your child is disappointed about having to stop. That’s natural. Encourage your child to use words to express feelings of disappointment. But if your child plays up or throws a tantrum, be careful not to accidentally reward that behaviour by allowing more time in the activity. Be understanding, but also be clear and firm. Gently insist that your child does what you ask.
  • Last updated or reviewed 16-06-2010