The world can be an extremely confusing and unpredictable place.
Some children struggle with transitions more than others, especially those kiddos who like sameness, those who hyper-focus or avoid undesired tasks, and those with unique learning needs. For these children, transitions may trigger shutting down, resistance, avoidance, backtalk, or a full-blown meltdown.
Because of the unique ways executive functioning muscles fire, children may become “stuck” in a task and find transferring attention and other similar thought processes difficult. Moving their body and shifting their mind from one situation to another can also be a struggle.
Transitions can be especially challenging when a child has to stop doing something they initiated and are enjoying (a preferred activity) and do something that is less desirable or directed by something else (a non-preferred activity) such as when you tell your child to turn off the TV and go to bed or when they are asked to stop playing Legos and come to dinner.
We can support our children with the bigger transitions by adding in time for practicing and getting used to successful and predictable smaller transitions during everyday routines. These are the everyday teachable moments that we call "add-ins" that will prime your children for bigger transitions.
Most children (similar to us adults) do better and are less anxious when they have an idea about what will be happening in any given social situation. Preparing your child ahead of time and giving them knowledge about what will happen will help set them up for success. This is called priming and it helps them feel more at ease which may also reduce challenging behaviors.
Another suggestion is to use visual prompts (e.g. visual schedules) or nonverbal language (e.g. hand gestures) to help them transition to what is next on the agenda. This adds an extra cue to support our verbal request which can often feel like nagging and may be tuned out by our children. This is never fun, right?
When we successfully navigate daily transitions, like switching from coloring time to dinner time, we build expectation for bigger transitions like Back to School.
Back to School comes with many transitions that parents might not even think about, such as a change in how the day is structured, different expectations involving eating and sleep times, and different adults and caregivers providing directions and support.
These type of transitions can bring on big emotions, especially with all of the uncertainty and different expectations coming from online learning to in-person learning. Take the time to check-in with your child, validate their feelings and provide direction and support with what they can expect. Many kids benefit from acting things out or role-playing what they can say or do to make them feel equipped for real-time interactions.
With the right tools, transitions can become less anxiety-provoking and more manageable. As we build the brain regions responsible for the many skills required for transitioning, we can lean into our children, meet them where they are, and provide the love and support that they need.
For more ideas, we collaborated with Generation Mindful to provide an additional blog post for 5 tools to help with transitions, big and small.
Together we are following my theme based 12 month Make It Simple, Make It Stick calendar with daily activities that you can use in your home. This month, we’re focused on transitions!