From here to there. For children, the task of going from one place to another can be overwhelming. You may feel like you are dragging your child kicking and screaming everywhere you go. The home to daycare, leaving the park after playing, or saying good-bye at a friend’s house are all examples of transitions. It is common for children to have difficulties with some transitions. Here are strategies that can help:
Use visuals or photographs of the places you are going to. Before you head out, show your child a picture of where you are going. The visual will help prepare them for what is happening next.
Start the transition in chunks of time. Tell your child they have 5 minutes before it is time to leave. After a few minutes, tell them that they have 1 minute then it is “time to go.” Then, count down from ten to signify the remaining 10 seconds as the final moments. Make sure you stand right beside your child when you count down from 10, hold their hand, and have them count down with you. Having them involved will cue them to move on.
Bring a favourite toy or object. Keep it in the vehicle or have it in your bag but make sure it stays out of sight. If your child is having difficulty leaving, tell them, "once you have your shoes on, you can hold your toy while we walk to the car." The toy will positively reinforce your child calmly transitioning and will provide your child something to focus on.
Professional tip: Tell your child the transition directions in 2 steps, first and then. "First, we will put your shoes on, then you can have your toy." Try to have the first direction as the task the child does not want to do. The then instruction is the reward.
Give your child the words. When children are upset, they are unable to cognitively process problem-solving strategies. Parents will often say to their child, "use your words," however, this can backfire because the child cannot think of the words to say when their emotions are escalated. Their brain does not work that way. Instead, give your child the appropriate verbal script to say and let them copy you. Be your child's voice! For example, when your child is upset and crying because they are mad at a sibling for taking a toy, go down to their level and say, "I am sad because you took my toy." Pause and let your child repeat what you said. “I want to take turns with the toy.” Again, pause and let the child repeat what you say. Think of it as giving them the right words to say. Expecting them to independently come up with the words they need can increase their frustration. The next time the situation happens to your child, they may need your support again but eventually, they will remember the verbal script that worked for them in the past, and they will become more independent.
Professional tip: The trick is to intervene when your child is beginning to become upset and before they hit their melt-down phase. If your child is having a melt-down, you will need to let them calm down before they can be ready to listen.
The preschool years are a perfect time to teach about time! Time for a child can be an abstract concept meaning that it is not something you can see, touch, hear or smell. As parents, we can help by making the meaning of time more concrete. Here are some ideas that may help a child develop a visual representation of time:
Sand timer: when you want your child to understand that something needs to happen quickly, a sand timer is a great tool. For example, when washing up before heading out the door, set the sand timer and try to accomplish the routine before the sand runs out.
Personal calendar: At the beginning of the month, create meaningful symbols that you can write down on their very own calendar. Make sure to do this with your child so they can help come up with the symbols, and they know what the symbols represent. For example, draw hearts on weekends, so your child knows that is when they get to stay home all day with you. A balloon can represent someone's birthday. A star can be the day of the week your child has a special activity.
Professional tip: Leave their calendar in their room so they can look at it independently. Many children are excited to have their own calendar and are eager to see how their week will look. Make sure to ask your child questions too, like how many days until the weekend or what special activity is happening today.