Moving from one activity to the next can be a challenge for both kids and parents. Helping children with transitions is possible with these 5 tips.
I swore I would never take him to the automobile museum ever again.
I had planned a fun outing to take my then-toddler to visit a nearby car museum. I expected us to see different models of cars and play with the exhibits.
Except it went nothing like that. He didn’t want to visit any of the exhibits or even play with the toys on display and screamed if we even suggested it.
So we figured he was hungry and ushered him quickly to the museum’s restaurant. Instead, he’d bang his elbows on the table and insisted on only eating the blueberries we packed. As predicted, he screamed when the blueberries ran out, forcing us to make a quick exit.
“Let’s give him choices,” we decided. (Big mistake)
“Do you want to stay at the museum, or go home?” we asked. He wanted to stay. Except not really, since he spent the next few minutes throwing even more tantrums. We had no choice but to leave, with our son screaming the whole way to the car and during the ride home.
After paying for tickets, parking and a restaurant meal, this became an expensive lesson on helping our son with transitions.
Helping children with transitions
We’ve struggled with helping our kids transition from one activity to the next, or even to try new experiences. Sometimes we’re not successful, as the above story described. Moving through the day is a challenge when kids don’t want to stop what they’re doing or tantrum with unfamiliar changes.
Routine or even fun activities become overwhelming. Special privileges like time on an iPhone become a battle zone. And it almost makes you not want to do anything out of the ordinary or exciting.
I’ve since learned the importance of handling transitions, especially with young children. We can still move through our day smoothly and even venture to new places. We just have to be strategic with how we get from one point to the next.
After all, change can be difficult for many of us, including kids. It’s especially challenging when a child is enjoying herself and doesn’t want to move on to the next activity. Or perhaps she’s so used to her daily routine that she’s suspicious of anything that might disrupt it. And sometimes, change is just overwhelming.
So, how can we help our kids transition from one thing to the next? These five tips have been instrumental for me, and might help you as well:
1. Give your child a heads up
At the park, you might find me bellowing to my kids, “We’re leaving in 10 minutes… We’re leaving in five minutes…” Because if I were to just spring our departure on the dot, they’re going to resist, guaranteed.
And I wouldn’t blame them. Often, they’re in the middle of an activity they’re not ready to wrap up just yet. Or they’re having a blast and can imagine doing this for hours.
I’ve since then given a head’s up when I need them to go from one activity to the next. Every morning, I let them know a few minutes ahead that we’ll be putting on shoes and jackets to head to school. Or I’ll tell them we’ll be going from from a party after we eat cake.
Kids need a few moments to wrap up their activities or shift their attention to a new one. Announcing a change out of the blue will only make it more difficult once you do have to go.
2. Pick a good time
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Raising kids sometimes feels like a dance. We observe, we follow routine, and we rely on good timing.
Picture the child who just sat down to play with his cars. Telling him it’s time to brush his teeth doesn’t seem like the right choice. And no wonder—he had just transitioned himself from a previous activity to playing cars. He’s in no mood to stop what he just started to do something else.
When you need to move from one activity to the next, do so at a good time. That might mean suggesting she brush her teeth before she got comfortable playing cars. Or giving her a few minutes of car time before transitioning her to the next activity.
Sometimes, you might even spot an opportunity to transition. Your child might have just finished an activity and is looking for something to do, or she’s winding down from playing at the park. The right timing makes for easier transitions on both parents and kids.
3. Follow a routine
For many kids, transitions happen on a daily basis. We all move through the day, often doing the same activities.
I’m a fan of routines. The repetition and sequence is so regular that kids don’t need us to remind them. But to get to that point, we need to instill a routine and schedule they can follow.
Start by doing the same activities roughly at the same times of the day in the same order. In the beginning, help your child transition from one activity to the next. Then later, begin to pull back until she doesn’t need as many reminders.
With enough routine in their day, kids can transition themselves, all on automatic.
4. Highlight the benefit of the transition
Kids live in the moment. They don’t think about what’s next, only that their current activity has their attention. Anything we suggest pales in comparison.
See if you can find a benefit to the change you want your child to do. If convincing your child to put her shoes on is a struggle, remind her that today is Show and Tell at school. Leaving a party might not be fun, but going home to get enough sleep is important for her big game tomorrow.
Not all transitions will offer a clear benefit, but find one that appeals to your child. One that ties directly to her in a way she can understand.
5. Watch your tone of voice
How we communicate with kids can make all the difference. Do you feel rushed? Are you barking orders? I know that when I’m harried and upset, it doesn’t help my kids transition away from an activity. Instead, they protest and absorb my negativity.
And so I try to watch my tone of voice. I acknowledge what they were doing and how fun or engrossing it looks. Then I state what needs to happen next. And finally, I follow it up with the next opportunity they’ll have to return to that activity.
Keeping my tone casual and conversational removes defensiveness or frustration.
Transitions can be difficult for kids, so much so that they can ruin an entire day at an automobile museum. But I’ve learned a few ways to prevent and manage tough transitions when they happen. I give them a heads up, I pick a good time, and I rely on routine for many of their daily transitions.
I also keep my tone of voice matter of fact, and highlight the benefits of change in ways they can understand.
Truth be told, I haven’t returned to the automobile museum since that fateful day. But should we decide to, I now know how to help my kids transition—even when the bowl of blueberries runs out.
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Tell me in the comments: What are some of the difficult transitions your child goes through?
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