How To Help Kids Who Struggle With Daily Transitions
BY DYAN ROBSON
Photo © darby/Twenty20
Apr 26, 2018
Many kids have a hard time with transitions. Especially if it involves moving their attention from something they are extremely interested or absorbed in, to something less interesting or fun. Diagnoses like autism, sensory processing disorder or ADHD, for instance, can further exacerbate these transition issues.
When a transition is unexpected or particularly difficult or unpleasant, the child may act out, throw a tantrum, have a meltdown, cry or scream. However, there are a few things you can do to help your child navigate these transitions successfully.
Establish Routines And Maintain Them
Keeping your day consistent and predictable makes it easier for your child to know what will be happening next. Start with a simple morning or bedtime routine. Aim for them to go to bed at the same time every night. The predictability of these simple routines will reduce the stress of the unknown that usually accompanies transitions.
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Use Visual Aids to Help with Routines and Schedules
Shortly before my son was diagnosed with autism, a social worker gave me the best advice ever: She suggested writing down or creating a visual schedule to help my son navigate his day. Since he could read at such a young age because of his hyperlexia, written words were especially important to him. Introducing a visual schedule into our house was life changing.
A visual schedule helps to show the order of the day. It shows what is happening next, creating predictability for kids.
Visual schedules even allow for flexibility because changes can easily be made. You can simply swap the items around on the schedule, or your child can help put together the schedule and routine for the day. Letting them have some control over their day also helps them deal with transitions better.
Remind Them of Upcoming Transitions
Be sure to remind your child that one activity is ending shortly and that they will be moving onto something different very soon. You can give them verbal reminders or use a visual support to show them that time is almost up for the activity they are currently engaged in. Countdown timers can be quite helpful for kids with transition issues, especially visual countdown timers like an hourglass, clock or countdown app. Be sure to also describe what they will be transitioning to.
Get Their Attention First
It can be difficult for kids to transition if they aren't aware that the transition is occurring soon. Make sure to personally connect with the child in some way before you prompt them about the transition. Things such as touching their shoulder (which is usually my go-to), making eye contact, clapping a rhythm for them to clap back or asking them to repeat what you have just told them are always effective attention-grabbing ideas.
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Use Music or Movement to Ease the Transition
I'm a big proponent of body breaks for helping kids transition, but as a piano teacher, I also know how valuable music can be to make transitions less stressful. Sing a song or encourage your child to hop like a kangaroo to help your child move to the next activity. Basically, make the transition fun! The more fun the transition seems to the child, the less likely it will be to cause stress or anxiety for your child. I have always found being silly with the kids makes transitions much easier.
Finally, don't forget to praise your child when they smoothly transition from activity to activity. Good praise goes a long way!