Do you ever notice that your kids come unglued at the most inappropriate times? There’s a reason that memes about getting out the door on time are so popular. It’s a legitimate struggle for many parents! Quite often, the key to fewer tantrums and meltdowns is a simple strategy: Have a plan for guiding your child through transitions to the next activity.
What are Transitions?
In parenting, transitions are any time when the child has to completely switch from doing one thing to doing another. Some kids are easygoing and may not even be aware they’re transitioning. Other kids hold onto what they’re doing with fierce determination and transitions may lead to meltdowns or tantrums. This child’s parent may feel like everything is a struggle.
How to Win at Transitions in your Home
All parents need a toolbox of tips and resources they can pull from when needed. These transition tips are what I used in my teaching career with special needs children, but I’ve learned over time that they work great with all children. If you’re sick of tantrums, try some of these strategies.
Set a Time Limit
Do you want Jimmy to put away his cars before eating lunch? Give him a warning, “In 5 minutes you need to out your cars away.” Use your regular talking voice, not a shout or irritated tone. Set a timer on the microwave. We use our Alexa Show, which displays a cool countdown as the timer runs out. Our kids are usually eager to wrap up their activity so they can watch the timer end on the Alexa Show!
Use Visual or Verbal Schedules
One year I had an autistic student, and he relied on visual cues throughout the day. I posted our daily schedule in a prominent spot and I referred to it often to the whole class. Before and after each transition I would refer to the schedule and point out what we had done already, what we were about to start doing and what was coming up. This strategy actually helped my whole class feel more calm throughout the day! When kids know what to expect as their day progresses, they are less anxious about what might happen next. Of course, we don’t make and post a schedule every day at home. But I will often give my kids a verbal schedule. “We are coloring a picture and then we will go to the store.” So they know that their current activity will happen for a while, and when it ends there is something else planned. I made this visual schedule for our morning routine for free in less than 10 minutes from this site.
Routines help a lot with transitions, especially bedtime and out-the-door transitions. For us, I started to notice a pattern of grouchiness and bickering as soon as the kids got home from school. I thought they should be happy to be home, but almost every day someone was teasing or crying before we got in the door. We needed a “coming home from school” routine! With the kids, I put together a playlist of their favorite songs. The next time we got in the car, we’d start their “after school playlist”. This musical cue helped ease the transition from a busy day at school to a more peaceful family at home.
I wish I could give you the key to the perfect routine, but unfortunately there is no universal routine that works for everyone. You have to find a routine that works for your family, and it may take some trial and error. But having routines in place will save you and your children from meltdowns.
Use a Collective “We” and not a Condescending “You” Command
One way I get my kids all on board with switching activities is to emphasize that whatever it is I’m asking them to do, it’s the expected thing they should be doing at the time. Both me and my children feel less tense when I use “we” instead of “you”. For example, “We are getting our shoes on now” reminds the child that there is an expected thing she should be doing, and everyone else is already doing ti. This puts some passive social pressure on the child to start putting her shoes on like everyone else. Barking orders like, “Get your shoes on” only makes me and my child feel like we’re gearing up for battle, when neither of us really wants that.
Hopefully by now you’ve had some time to think about times during the day when your child struggles with transitions. If you have any questions or want to share in the discussion, leave a comment below.