Managing Transitions (without tantrums!)

by Sesame Lane Admin on 12/09/2016 3:37:22 AM
You need to go to the supermarket, but your little one is happy playing with their train set. You know there’s going to be a battle, but you really don’t want the stress. Is there a way to deal with transitions in a cool and calm way? 

You’re in luck, there is and we’re going to tell you how. 

There are some simple and practical ways you can alter how you deal with transitions, which will make the whole process much smoother for both you and your child. 

So this article will explain: 

•    What are transitions and when do they happen?
•    Why transitions are so tough to deal with
•    6 practical ways to deal with transitions, everyday 

What are Transitions? 

So when we talk about transitions, what do we mean? In it’s simplest form it’s stopping one activity and starting up another one straightaway. This can come in the form of: 

•    Stopping playtime for bedtime (the toughest)
•    Stopping an activity to go run errands 
•    Taking your child to or picking them up from child care.

Your children won’t understand why these things are happening, why they’re necessary, and that they won’t be separated from their favourite toys forever. 

Why Transitions Are So Tough 

Your child will deal with transitions every day, multiple times a day and in a multitude of different scenarios. As a general rule kids of pre school age don’t deal with them very well, mainly because they don’t really understand why they have to stop doing what they’re doing. 

Toddlers and young children live very much in the moment and fully immerse themselves in whatever they’re doing, so to break them away from that before they’re ready can be stressful.

Think about it this way. It’s like you going to your favourite restaurant, you’re really looking forward to having three courses and savouring every mouthful. The starter comes and before you’ve even had chance to taste it, the waiter takes away. 

You’d be pretty mad, right? 

It’s the same for your children. But the fact is, transitions need to happen. So it’s better to be on the offence rather than the defence. Be prepared to deal with most eventualities and you’ll be a master negotiator in no time. 

The main difference is that in your situation you would be able to vocalise your annoyance. You can shout to the waiter and say “hey, what the heck are you doing?!” Your little one can’t do that. They can’t explain “Mum, I’m in the middle of something here, can I have five minutes?”

Being prepared is key. It’s the only way to avoid the inevitable tantrums caused by an unexpected transition. But how do you do it? 


6 Practical Transition Tips 

#1 Give Warning, Lots of Warning 

You can never be too prepared when it comes to tackling transitions. The key to this is making sure there are no unexpected surprises to your child. As they have no sense of time, or the necessity for a schedule, they just think they’ll be able to play and do what they want all day. 

You need to give your child realistic expectations of how the day is going to pan out. It’s a good idea to put these ideas into your child’s mind the night before. Make it a calming, nighttime ritual. When you put your child to bed talk through exactly what is going to happen the next day and reiterate it first thing in the morning as they’re getting dressed, or eating their breakfast. 

This stops them from having unrealistic expectations towards how long they’re going to have to play with their favourite doll, truck or crayons. They know what’s coming and they’ll be able to deal with it. 

#2 Have a Timer System

Words are meaningless, sometimes. Particularly when it comes to time. So if you say to your child “we’re leaving in 10 minutes”, that’s absolute gobbledigook. It’s been suggested by Kathleen Grey, a family development specialist, that using a timer is a great way to cross this barrier. 

Rather than giving your child a verbal time limit to their play, give them an audio or visual cue. Have a timer in place and say to your child “when the timer goes off, we need to go to the supermarket (or other activity)”. This way they have the warning they need and the clear cue to the transition. 

The same goes if you don’t have a timer around. If they’re in the bath you can say “when all the water’s gone down the drain it’s time to get out”, or “5 more turns on the slide and then it’s time to go”. Give them limits they understand. 


#3 Find Ways to Help 

Another great way to be practical about transitions is by helping them through it. Need to get them to clear their toys and go to bed? Offer to help them tidy up. The same goes for:

•    Packing their bag together 
•    Brushing teeth together 
•    Getting them to help you sort out the food for a picnic 

Little things like that make them feel comforted in knowing they’re not alone in the situation and it’s a distraction to what’s really going on. 

#4 Choose Your Words Wisely 

Do you find yourself over complicating the situation, giving them too many choices and entering into a vicious power struggle circle? This happens a lot and you can cut this whole power business out by reducing the amount of words you use. 

Simply saying “car”, “toast” or “shoes” can cut out a whole load of hassle. The key here though is how you say it…

#5 Come to their Level 

Avoid shouting, or losing your temper in this scenario. Children do what they see, so if you get mad, or shout, they are going to do exactly the same thing back at you. 

The most practical way to get their compliance is by coming down to their level, with a calm, happy face and whispering or speaking softly to them. If they’re playing with their toys and you want them to get their shoes on, or sit down for their lunch just softly speak the one word and they’re much more likely to drop what they’re doing and move on to the next thing. 


#6 Avoid Threats 

You know how if you shout at your child they shout back? The same goes for making threats. Kids react to the way they’re treated. If they’re treated with aggression or threats, they won’t comply. It’s pretty simple. 

And I know staying calm is easier said than done, and if you put into place the other 5 steps it may not even come to this. But avoid threats at all costs. 

How many times have you found yourself saying, “if you don’t have your shoes on by the time I get to 10…” etc etc? How many times has it been a smooth, calm, simple process? 

We're going to hazard a guess at, never. 

And it’s a lot more emotionally complex than you might think. By putting threats into play you’re giving your child two choices, back down and lose his/her sense of pride, or lose your approval. 

Kathleen Grey gives a great example of exactly how to deal with this situation. 

•    Speak calmly, in short sentences that are easy to comprehend 
•    If that doesn’t work, offer help 

And by offering help, she means saying something like, “I see you don’t really want to do this so I’m going to help. I’m going to carry you to your shoes and help you put them on.” 

You are still in complete control, but you’re calm and they fully understand what is happening and why. 


Simple But Effective is Key 

Toddlers and young children are incredibly complex. They know exactly how to push your buttons. But dealing with them can be super simple, you just need to have all the tools in your toolbox. 

Dealing with transitions can be a power struggle, but it doesn’t have to be. If you choose to keep calm, give them plenty of warning and put all the strategies in place to ensure your child knows exactly what is expected of them, you’ll be fine.

It’s important to be consistent. If you decide to start giving them a play by play of what’s going down the next day at bedtime, do it every night. Children need this consistency to feel emotionally safe and secure. If you choose to implement a timer system, or help them with their bag in the morning, try and do it every time. 

Once they know and feel sure in knowing what is expected of them, it will only get easier and eventually you won’t need to help/use timers at all. But one step at a time.