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How to Help Your Child Transition

Transitions can cause protests, meltdowns, and other behavior problems–but why?

Transitions can feel much bigger for kids than for adults. Shifting gears requires some activity in the brain and in the body to happen. Think about going from laying in your bed to your workout class? You are happy once you’re there, but the adjustment from rest to active can be hard, it requires energy. 

Transitions become even harder when we go from a preferred activity (play time) to a non-preferred activity (dinner, bath, brushing teeth). This makes sense! The transition can spark big feelings in your kids, and often, more intense than they know how to manage. 


Try these 4 ideas to make your child’s transitions feel smoother:


  1. Visual Aids I’m a big proponent of visual aids for routines (picture charts depicting the order of their day). I like to even place these in the rooms where they are applicable. For example, I might have bath, pajamas, brush teeth all in the bathroom chart, or you can use visual aids to name the steps of an activity ( e.g. toothpaste, brush teeth for (length of time), rinse, shut water).

  2. Timers One problem for kids is that “time” feels like an abstract concept. Even when we tell a child that they had 10 minutes left of playtime, they may not fully understand what that feels like. When kids have a better sense of how much time they have left for an activity, they can better plan out their play, or mentally prepare how to close out a preferred activity. When they are younger, I like visual timers like this one so that kids can visualize how much time they have left, rather than waiting for some random phone alarm to sound. Sand timers are great also, but they won’t “beep” so keep that in mind. 

  3. Mental Prep I speak so much to Liv (age 7) about what we are doing, and in what order. I also give her ideas as to when a transition may be coming up (e.g. “after they sing happy birthday, you can have some cake and then we are leaving” or “you have 10 minutes left, so you can probably bike around the park 2 more times”). I also talk a lot in “steps” and ins first-then’s. “First you can have a snack, then it’s homework time, and after that you can watch tv.”  When kids are little you can mentally prep them for what a place might look like, who might be there, and what they will be doing, etc.

  4. Songs, Movement, Play For little ones, songs work wonders (this is why they use lots of them in school to clean-up, push in their chairs, come to circle-time, wash their hands, etc). Make up a song for any transition- this will help your child feel more regulated, and can cue the change is coming. Movement breaks are awesome too, even for older ones. I might say “before we move to bath-time, let's dance to your favorite song” or “let's do 10 jumping jacks” - these body breaks can feel like a reboot before they have to do something they don’t want to. 

Happy transitioning to all!


As a child therapist and parenting coach,

I’m here to help you see the world through your child’s lens so you can parent to their needs.


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