Both in my private practice as well as amongst my peers, I hear more and more that children are having trouble transitioning from one activity or situation to another. So much so that parents are seeking help from therapists and teachers.
Why are children struggling in this area? And why more now than in the past?
Is it because parents are talking more about these situations or has the incidence of such struggles increased? There is no clear answer to this question. What is clear is that many children in our community are suffering.
If the actual reasons for the reluctance to transition are not clearly understood, how can parents help their children?
1. Validate their feelings.
First and foremost, kids need to have their feelings validated. Brushing off their concerns does not help the situation and also sends the message that what they feel is not important to you. This is probably the opposite message that you are trying to convey.
2. Understand that kids get ‘stuck’ when they feel safe in their current environment.
If children are reluctant to try new activities, it is because they feel safe and secure in their current environment. If this were not the case, they would be more likely to seek new opportunities and different activities.
3. Always give your children a ‘Heads Up’.
Explain to your children how much time they are allowed to engage in a certain activity. This sets expectations for them and gives them parameters. This way children will know that after the given period of time, they will have to transition to something else.
It is also helpful to establish an unspoken signal between you and your child, such as a nod, or a scratch to the nose. Do whatever you can to make the transitions as easy as possible for them. Whatever you do, ensure the signal is agreed upon by both of you so there is no opportunity for misunderstanding.
4. Avoid arguing right before a transitional period.
Save the discipline for later if the behavior warrants it. It is also helpful to look for natural transitional periods. For example, “When your TV show is over, it is time to get ready for bed.” This is a natural transitional period, and will go a lot farther than, “It’s 8PM. TV is off. Time for bed.” You want to send a message that conveys structure and discipline while also considering your child’s feelings.
Additionally, try to give your children something to look forward to when they leave a situation. For instance, if there is cooperation around getting ready for bed, let them know ahead of time that you’ll reward them with an extra-long snuggle, two books to read, etc.
5. Continue to be sensitive to your children’s needs.
If it appears that your children are struggling with a transition, actively listen to their concerns. Bend down and make eye contact with them. Touch their shoulder. Give them reassurance. And look for signs that help is needed before the anxiety about the transition spirals to the point where there is no turning back.
It is ultimately up to you to make transitions as easy as possible for your children.What works for one does not necessarily work for another, even within the same family. You know your children best. Listen to their cues. Hear their concerns.
Children learn by example. It is our job as parents to help our children adapt to life’s circumstances and to understand their place in the world with as much love and support as possible surrounding them.
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