Difficulties with Transitions and how to create Routines

I often encounter parents telling me that their child struggles with transitions. Be it from the car to the house, from watching TV to eating dinner, switching from playing board games to doing homework, or leaving the house in the morning.

Before I describe some ways to support your child with transitions let me highlight that transitions ARE complex, and it is important to transition appropriately! Just have a brief think about how you transition from one place, activity, or task to another. If you really think about it or if you observe yourself when you next transition, you will notice that a comfortable transition takes a lot of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural effort. We as adults have a lot of control and choice in when, how and why we transition. We also have much more cognitive, emotional, and behavioural capacity to transition in a way that is comfortable for us. Remember when we lost control during the pandemic and we lost our commute, or our tea breaks in the office kitchen? The commute, tea break etc. turned out to be highly important rituals, predictable patterns in our daily routines. We follow routines to make transitions easier.

I hope this little insight makes it easier for you to understand why transitions can be very difficult for some children. So here are some tips:

Time for Change Sign With Led Light
Photo by Alexas Fotos — Pexels.

1. Predictability — Create daily routines that your child knows. Prepare your child ahead of time when a certain transition will happen. Maybe even find a calm moment when you can talk about transitions, what your child finds difficult about them and how you might be able to make them easier. Make sure you really plan each transition as an important event. Ensure your child understands what happens before and after each transition i.e. create a predictable routine.

2. Control — Co-create these routines. Ask your child for solutions. Ask them what they need. Try and give them as much choice as possible. If they can’t come up with things make suggestions. Make sure that they understand that their voice is important in finding solutions.

3. Visualisation — Create a visual daily planner, create comic strips of the morning and/or bedtime routine. Get visual timers to make it easier for your child to understand the passage of time. Words are often easily forgotten and in order to learn a new behaviour, to internalise new routines/rituals, visual reminders can be incredibly helpful. If anything is unclear or forgotten you can always refer back to the visualisations you have created together. Creating these also makes for quality parent-child time.

4. Flexibility — Of course there will be days when things don’t go to plan. Try and create rules and/or routines that are not too rigid. Flexible rules will give children the necessary guidance they need but also the freedom of choice, which relates back to point 2. Additionally, be prepared that the visual support you have co-created will need to be adjusted to changing circumstances and you might not get it right the first or second time.

5. Practice — The following may seem very strange to you, but you can practice transitions without the time pressure and stress that often makes transitions difficult in the first place. Let’s say your child really struggles with turning of the TV. Find 5 minutes during the day when you simply practice turning off the TV with your child. You can even be a little silly about it and find a fun way of doing it i.e. zapping the TV with the remote whilst lifting up one leg or after a twirl. Say your child struggles with leaving the house in the morning. Practice the “leaving-the-house-morning-routine” together with your child when you have some extra time on your hands.

I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch should you have any questions or would like to discuss some aspects further.

Lukas Dressler Psychotherapy.plus

Lukas Dressler (he/him)
Psychotherapy.plus
Counselling Psychologist (MSc.)
HCPC Registered No. PYL041915
Integrative Psychotherapist (MBACP)

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Lukas Dressler - Psychotherapy Plus

Counselling Psychologist (MSc.), HCPC Registered, Integrative Psychotherapist for Children and Young People.