What are transitions?

Transitions happen when your child has to stop doing one activity and start doing something else. Examples of transitions include:

  • getting ready to leave the house
  • putting away toys before bedtime
  • turning off the television or computer
  • getting out of the bath.

Your child probably needs to make transitions many times a day. But transitions can be hard, especially if your child is happy with what she’s doing and doesn’t want to stop.

Planning transitions: tips

A predictable family routine is likely to help with transitions that happen every day. Children can accept change better when they know it’s coming.

Here are some tips for planning transitions:

  • Explain what’s happening to your child before you start the day or leave the house. Knowing what to expect will help children – especially older children – have realistic expectations.
  • Use a family calendar that shows what different family members are doing each day. You could use a calendar with pictures for younger children.
  • Consider whether you need to teach your child new skills or knowledge to help him with daily transitions. For example, you might need to teach your child to tie his shoelaces to make leaving the house easier. Or perhaps your child needs a written or visual list to help him pack his schoolbag each morning.

Timing transitions: tips

Transitions are a part of every child’s day. Timing them right can make it easier for your child to change from one thing to another:

  • Choose your timing. If you can, stop one thing and start another during a natural break in your child’s activity. For example, wait until your child has finished her puzzle before you tell her lunch is ready. If you’re sensitive to what your child is doing, it can make transitions easier for you both.
  • 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’, or ‘Derek, one more go on the slide and then we’re going home’.
  • If your child finds transitions particularly challenging, consider allowing more time between activities. This gives your child extra time to make the change and adjust.

Giving choices about transitions

You can’t always give your child a choice about stopping one activity and starting another. But sometimes you can give her a choice about other things. Here are some ideas:

  • Give your child a choice about things that are part of the transition. For example, ‘Evan, we have to go the car in a minute. You can take one toy with you. Which one will it be?’ or ‘Do you want to do that yourself or shall we do it together?’
  • Limit options. For example, let your child choose between two different t-shirts, but not every item in his wardrobe! If he won’t choose, you can choose for him.
  • Avoid giving your child a choice about a transition if there isn’t really a choice. For example, when you say, ‘Orla, would you like to pack up those toys now?’ you suggest a choice. Instead you could say, ‘Orla, start packing up those toys now please’.

Making transitions more positive

Pointing out the positive side of the transition can direct your child’s attention away from the change and onto something that he likes or is happy about:

  • See whether you can make transitions fun. For example, ‘Can you march like a soldier to the car?’ or ‘How about we play “I spy” on the trip home?’
  • Link something your child doesn’t want to do with something that she likes – for example, ‘First we clean up the toys, then we have a snack’.
  • Point out any good things your child can look forward to after the transition. For example, ‘If we leave now, we’ll have time to play with your trains before dinner’.
  • Praise your child for handling transitions well. Emphasise how good it is when you both work together as a team.

Troubleshooting transitions

It’s OK if your child is disappointed about having to stop. That’s natural. You can use his disappointment as an opportunity to talk about emotions, and encourage him to use words to express feelings – for example, ‘I know you feel frustrated that you didn’t have time to play another game’.

But if your child plays up or has a tantrum, be careful not to accidentally reward that behaviour by giving her more time on the activity. You can be understanding, but also clear and firm. Gently insist that your child does what you ask.