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How to Help your Child Transition Between Tasks

Jun 2, 2023

Big or small, change is hard. We’ll say it again for further validation: change is hard! When your kiddos are faced with a change in daily tasks, it can seem like the end of times for some kiddos. Let’s make transitions easier for us and our little ones for the sake of having better days.

Seen, Heard, and Felt

Transitions can give your kiddo all the feels in the worst ways. Along with change, transitions are often an emotional experience and an overwhelming one at that. They happen in a variety of places and pop up at different times such as before bed or meals. Resistance can happen as a single incident or can become a daily occurrence. No matter the situation, an unwanted incident is sure to raise your blood pressure.

For your kiddo, they may try anything to delay or avoid the inevitable shift. Some kiddos transform into whining machines while others may have a full-blown meltdown. Houston, we have a problem. Even still, some children glide through transitions with ease. When you know how your child will respond, it makes dealing with the transition easier. In any scenario, standing your ground is essential. Giving in even once tells your child that their behavior will continue to delay or end a transition. Remember that you are always in control even against the most incredible of Hulks.

Why are Transitions such a Challenge?

Anyone can have difficulties with transitions, including adults. The reason for resisting change is different for each individual, but resistance does come from a place of big emotions. In particular, kiddos who already face an emotional challenge daily are particularly at risk for a negative response.

Kids with anxiety may feel afraid of the unexpected. What is coming next? A kiddo with OCD may need things to be absolutely perfect before moving on to the next activity. With sensory processing disorder, kids can already feel overwhelmed. Frustration can even arise with children who cannot communicate their wants yet. Understanding the trigger is valuable as it can help you discover a solution, but as we know, many factors can affect our emotions and how we feel during moments of change. Finding a solution is often not something that will happen overnight.

Since children do not have control over their schedule and often do not possess a strong grasp of time, changing tasks feels like a real living nightmare. One of the biggest steps we can take as parents is to name the emotion and allow your child to feel the way they do. When we discourage an emotion such as anger, it creates a sense that the emotion is not legitimate. Even though we think a response is dramatic and unnecessary does not mean your youngster feels the same, and we’re guessing that they probably don’t. You can still hold your ground and act when allowing your kiddo to experience the ebb and flow of emotions.

How to Help

  1. Create Consistent Routines and Stick to Them

Kiddos thrive with consistent routines. Routines create a stronger commitment to the transition because they will know what to expect next. This means that the transition will come as less of a surprise. Consistency also generates feelings of security and trust in a situation. Encouraging these positive emotions will make everything easier.

  1. Give Countdowns

Let your child know how long they have and continue to give them a countdown. “You have 15 more minutes,” then 10, 5, 2, and so on. Letting them know what they will be able to complete in that time will be helpful for kids who do not have a strong grasp on time too. When you start the countdown, make it clear what activity is coming next. Are you leaving? Are you having dinner? Letting them know will give your kiddo comfort.

  1. Use Music

Do whatever it takes to make the transition more fun. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!

  1. Praise & Rewards

Whenever possible, make the transition a positive experience. When you catch your child actively listening, give them praise and allow them to keep up the good work. If you offer a reward, be wary of giving food. Oftentimes when food is offered as a reward for good behavior, an association is made between food and emotions. It’s best to stick to objects like stickers.

  1. Offer Choices for the Next Activity

If you aren’t offering choices to your child, they will be less likely to respond well because they have less control over the next task. Offer choices between options: “Do you want to walk or race to the car?” or “Where do you want to sit for dinner?” Questions invite autonomy.

  1. Bonus Activity: Create a Collection

Build a collection box with your kiddo. You can use a shoebox and decorate it. Allow your child to collect fun erasers, stickers, coins, or anything else that may spark their interest. When they behave well during a transition, you can give them an item to add to their collection.

  1. Always, always encourage your child to do their best!

If you’re concerned about how your child responds during transitions, learn about how our Occupational Therapists can help.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date information for parents and caregivers.