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By Audra Sitterly, OTD, OTR/L, TEIS Occupational Therapist
Transitions – moving to new places, people and activities – are very challenging for toddlers. Though it is something we do many times during the day, it can be overwhelming and seem unpredictable to your child. Turning off your child’s favorite TV show, leaving the playground, having to stop playing to get in the car, or bedtime can easily lead to tears and tantrums. Learning how to handle transitions appropriately is an important developmental step. When you teach your child to prepare for transitions you are helping them learn a valuable skill, and decreasing stress and frustration for you as these transitions will occur more smoothly.
Here are 6 tips to get your seemingly “stubborn” child to switch gears:
• Allow plenty of time for changing activities: There is nothing worse than being in a rush because you are late for an appointment or activity and your toddler begins to throw a tantrum. When you are stressed, your child will feed off that energy, and transitions will be even more challenging. Try allowing you and your child extended time to transition. This will allow you to be calm as the adult, decreasing stress for both you and your child, and smoothing the entire transition process.
• Talk to your child about what’s going to happen next: Transitions often cause anxiety for toddlers, especially if they do not know what is going to happen next. One way to calm this anxiety is by talking to your child about what is going to happen next. It may even be beneficial to create a visual schedule as a reminder for the child to look at and remember what will be happening next.
• Allow your child to use a transitional object: Sometimes making an activity seem “special” will increase the ease your child has with the activity. During transitions, try having one object/toy to play with that your child really enjoys. Allow your child to only use this toy during periods of transition, and then immediately take it away and hide it until the next transition. This could make your child excited about transitions because they know they will get to play with their favorite toy.
• Incorporate songs and rhymes: Most parents know the tune “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle, Twinkle.” What is your child’s favorite tune or rhyme? Use this song or rhyme whenever you are transitioning. Not only is this something your child will enjoy, but it will also distract them as you move from one place to another, or from one activity to the next.
• Offer advanced notice when an activity is about to end: Alerting your child to when an activity is about to end is an easy way to facilitate a smooth transition. One way to offer advance notice is by providing warnings (“you have 5 minutes until we switch”). If children are visual learners, a visual timer or countdown could be used.
• Give you child a sense of control about how he/she wants to make transitions: We all know that toddlers like to feel in control. Giving children a sense of control in transitions can help make these less challenging. Try offering your child two choices such as, “would you like to jump to the car or run to the car?” When offering choices, it is important to remember that options provided must be two options that you are ok with your child choosing.