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Tips for Eliminating Transition Challenges with Kids

Does your child dawdle or go into full-blown meltdown mode when you transition from one thing to another? Common struggle areas include getting into the car, ending video games, or getting ready for bed. Sometimes the way we handle transitions can minimize tantrums and help our child learn to manage to end something they really enjoy.
Tip #1: Offer Choices
It's really hard for all humans to go from something we love to a chore. Help littles have more control over the situation by offering a choice. It’s non-negotiable that kids have to brush their teeth before bed, but offering a choice within your boundaries helps them feel somewhat in charge while still completing necessary tasks. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

Do you want me to carry you or do you want to walk to the car?
Do you want to get pjs on or brush your teeth first?

Tip #2: Have a Clear Routine
Kids feel more secure when they know what to expect. Creating a visual routine chart that you stick to the majority of the time is helpful for kids to transition well from one thing to the next. This will also help you to refer back to the chart rather than finding yourself in the loop of giving constant commands to your child to “get dressed now”. 

Tip #3: Help Them Wrap Up Their Activity
Imagine for a second, I turned off the suspenseful movie you were watching right in the middle and demanded you get in bed. How might you react? It's just as tough for littles to stop something mid-process. It can help kids develop the ability to problem solve if we use phrases like "what is one more thing you can do to feel all done tonight?"

Tip #4: Take a Picture or leave a sticky note
Let them leave their lego build or art project up for display and offer to take a photo so they can remember what they built and what they were working on. Bonus points if you let them take the picture and have a little bit more control over the situation. Another option that works especially well for video games is to add a sticky note to the game to remind them where they left off so they can pick back up easily next game time. If we help kids take just one step in the direction of ending a task they enjoy, it can really help improve compliance. 

Tip #5: Give visual reminders
Time is an abstract concept and it's hard to visualize. To help children transition, set a visual sand timer or kitchen timer so they can see that time running out. Give plenty of transition time. Give a 10, 5, and 1 min warning. Try to avoid "5 more mins then you will clean up" instead say, "you have 5 more mins left of playtime".

Tip #6: Be mindful of your phrases
Really try to avoid the “power over” style of phrases like, "go get pajamas on now" or threats like "stop now or you won't get to play video games for the rest of the week.” Instead, say, "it's time to get pajamas on.", "I am going to get my pajamas on. Yours are here. I wonder if I will beat you?" or "as soon as you get pjs on, we can listen to our audiobook together. Focusing on the next activity helps kids find the way forward rather than focusing on the consequences and negative power struggles between a parent and them. 

Tip #7: Offer your Praises before clean up.
Let them know what you enjoyed as they were building or your favorite parts of the movie they were just watching. Sit down for the last 5 mins of their video game time and share what you enjoy in their game. While kids can't take the game or the toy with them to bed, they can take those little moments of enjoyment and create a positive moment before needing to transition.

Tip #8: Make it a game
When something is really difficult for us, sometimes we just need a little encouragement and fun to make something tough feel a little less daunting and taxing. ​​Get kids into the imaginative part of their brain by making it a game. This helps ease that transition. 

  • Play hot lava and try to get dressed without touching the floor.
  • Play the freeze game "While you get dressed, I am going to turn on some music. When the music stops, you freeze. 
  • Say to your child, "I am going to waddle out to the car like a penguin.” 

A final note
Most importantly, it doesn’t matter which tools you decide to implement as long as you are consistent and give it a fair shot. Implement one of these tips consistently for at least a week before deciding whether or not it works for your family. Being consistent and predictable is safe and secure to our kids. When you show confidence in making a change, your children will pick up on that attunement and follow suit. I hope these tools bring some peace into your home and build a better connection for you and your children.