A young child has to change from one activity to another many times during the day. He may have to stop playing to eat lunch, get dressed to go to the store, leave the park to go home, or one of the toughest of all — get ready for bed.
These transition times can be very difficult for a child, and can quickly turn into a power struggle that leaves both parent and child frustrated and exhausted.
There are a number of ways to help make transitions easier, but you may have to experiment a bit with some different ideas until you find what works best for you and your child.
Plan ahead. If possible, let your child know ahead of time that a change is coming. If you give a 10-minute warning before it is time to leave, be sure to follow it up with another reminder at five and again at two minutes. Then follow through. Instead of a time limit, you could let your child know what you have time to do.
"We have time for one more story before bed. Which one would you like to read?"
"After 10 more pushes on the swing, it’s time to go home. Can you help me count to 10?"
Have a routine. Some transitions, like leaving for day care or getting ready for bed, happen at the same time each day and involve the same steps each time. By being very consistent with these transitions, your child can feel both secure and independent, as she knows what is coming next.
Keep the good feelings about an activity that is ending. Because children live very much in the moment, having to leave an exciting activity seems final, as if they might never have fun again. When a special visit or outing comes to an end, encourage your child to continue to talk about it. Help her understand that the good feelings can continue in her memory of the event.
Involve your child. Make the transition something your child is a part of, not something he is being forced into.
"We will be going to the store soon. Can you help me think of what groceries we will need to buy?"
"It’s time to put away the toys. Should we pick up the red blocks or the yellow ones first?"
Develop rituals. Routines give our lives structure and security, but rituals make this structure fun. By incorporating rituals into your day, you can give your child cues that a certain change is about to happen.
Singing a song at cleanup time, saying goodbye to stuffed animals or the family pet before leaving the house, or playing a favourite game before bedtime are all simple rituals that can help your child recognize that it is time to move from one activity to another.
The best rituals are ones that you do together. Not only do they help with transitions, but it is a wonderful chance to bond with your child.
Keep in mind that no matter how prepared you are, transitions remain a difficult time for a lot of children. However, by demonstrating good coping skills and being consistent, you can help your child develop the skills to handle change comfortably.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 31, 2012