Does your child battle every transition? Try these solutions to make changes easier on you all.
We've all been there.
Clock ticking. 10 minutes, five minutes, two minutes until you need to leave.
Except, your child has other ideas.
One minute until zero hour and they are still laying on their bedroom floor in just their underwear refusing to put on their clothes. This happens all the time and frankly, you’re getting to the end of your rope trying to make dressing happen.
So, you don’t. You chug a much needed coffee, stuff bags with lunches, and hope for the miracle of a fully-dressed child appearing in the kitchen in 30 seconds
But then it happens. Time to go, and not one of you is ready to step out the door.
Getting caught out like this day to day is exhausting. The panic, the prompting, the nervous energy that almost always ends in explosive yelling and tantrums.
It sucks. But there is one way for you to get unstuck.
Actually, a simple five-minute strategy you can use every time you want to switch activities or leave the house calmly, happily, and with your child's full co-operation.
Every transition meant whining and fighting…
We’re not the best with transitions in our family. And they used to drive me crazy. I just couldn't figure out why every transition was so hard for my son.
Me, my husband and daughter are the type that when we know something is coming – an appointment, a lunch date, a party – we spend a whole lot of time doing other things and then realise we have to rush to make it on time.
And, most times, this works.
But my son?
He digs his heels in. Won't get dressed. Refuses to put his shoes on, cries as we carry him out. (And at 6 years old, carrying him out felt desperately like we were failing somehow.)
Like, one weekend morning we had plans to meet friends for lunch. I’d been rushing around getting ready and all of a sudden realised it was time to go. My son squirmed, he pleaded no, and said he wasn’t ready.
I was just about to launch into my usual exasperated tirade:
- “Come on, we’ll be late,”
- “Grab your shoes,”
- “Hurry, we need to go,”
- “Let’s get a move on, we can still make it…”
But he looked me square in the eye, and said, sadly, “You said we could play.”
He’d got me. It was true! I HAD said that, in an off-hand manner, while I was shoving washing into the machine earlier that morning.
Truth be told, I hadn’t given it a second thought, but he had. And I don’t know why it got to me that day, but it did.
I felt bad.
Bad enough to get inspired, as it turned out. I looked at the clock, and thoughts raced through my mind as I watched the second-hand tick threateningly. Could we, should we, will we? I mused.
My thoughts raced as quickly as that second-hand ticked
These were friends. We could be five minutes late and still be forgiven, right?
You see, I'd just read that Special Time could be helpful in transitions, and I wondered if now might be the time to test that theory.
I took a deep breath.
I said, “You are right, I did say we could play. We can spend five minutes doing Special Time now, and later, when we get home, we’ll do 10 more. What do you think?”
He agreed, very readily.
I was surprised because he didn’t jump off and run to play the loud, combative wrestling games he so often chooses for Special Time. Instead, he sat right where he was and showed me the picture he was drawing.
Despite doubt rising in my mind, and my husband’s frantic signalling that “time was getting on,” and “What was I THINKING???” I tried to put all my focus, all my love, on watching him draw.
A little bubble of calm began to surround us
It was like we had a little warm bubble of calm around the table he was working on.
He took a minute or two after he finished when he made two Lego Minifigures fight and have a bit of a conversation and then the timer on my phone dinged.
Time was up. I thanked him for a great Special Time and waited.
And you know what? He did not whine. He did not complain. You know what he did?
He jumped up, put the two Minifigures in his bag, and ran to get his shoes.
It was a jaw-drop moment.
I’m always hesitant to say something is amazing.
But seriously, in that moment, it truly felt like something magical happened.
Even my husband was incredulous as we stepped out the door. I couldn't stop grinning.
Best. Transition. Ever.
It was the first time in months we'd gone out without a big battle
I still don’t know if the change came because he needed that calm space to get comfortable with getting moving, whether he was satisfied with getting his drawing completed, or if it was something to do with me honoring his request to play.
Maybe it was all of this plus stuff I haven't even figured out yet.
What I did learn was that our rushing around dressing, filling water bottles and rucksacks was not a clear enough sign for my six-year-old that he too should get ready to leave. He needed much more preparation ahead of a transition.
I do think too that my promise to play felt vague for me and concrete to him. Essential for him even. That was his signal: After we played, we’d leave.
So I learned something else: I could do better to set up a smooth transition.
I believe it using Special Time worked because I really focused on keeping enthusiastic, unhurried, and paying warm, positive attention to what he was doing.
That one moment showed me about the kind of parenting my son needs
That moment showed me a little bit more about the kind of parenting my son needs, which is totally different to my daughter, who has no problem, it seems, with hurried a transition.
Since that day I've tried to be more specific about what we are doing and when – we’ve even made some checklists for our busier days.
And I always try to fit in Special Time before we leave.
Try these ideas to help a child who fights every transition:
Kids have issues with transitions for many reasons. Some have real fears about leaving and their emotions can overwhelm them. Special Time is an ideal way to boost their security and soothe that anxiousness ahead of any transition. Here are some more ideas.
- Allow More Time: Others may just need longer to prepare. If you notice your child does stall and fight when you try and end one activity or leave the house, start allowing more time. My friend starts talking to her twins about activities weeks, sometimes, before they happen. That isn’t my style at all, in fact, I didn’t even notice she did this before that day with my son. Since then though, I’ve followed her example, and I've tried to do more prep talk, especially around big events that I know my son has hesitations about – like birthday parties.
- Make a Checklist: A checklist of things to do before you leave can help, and Special Time can be a marker on that list. When i’ve tried this, I have my son check off things as he completes them, and he is really enthusiastic about that.
- Create a Habit: Some kids like a transitory behavior, which you do each time and acts as soothing preparation. My son always likes to bring a few things from home, so now about 15 minutes before we leave, I ask him to think about what he wants to bring and collect those items. This has become a clear indication for him that we are leaving, (and stops the rest of us waiting at the door, counting down seconds, shooting daggers while he races around the house trying to find that “one perfect toy.”)
- Get Clear: Another thing I've learned ahead of a transition is to be clear about time. “We will leave at 11.30 after we're done with snack,” or “OK, we will finish snack, collect your things, and then leave,” or, “In 10 minutes we'll start tidying up so we are ready to eat lunch.”
- Hear Them Out: And if you hear resistance, lean in. When you get clear on times, you get to hear your child's complaints ahead of time. Sometimes all they need is to offload. Sometimes this will be your cue to make time to spend with them, which can help too. For instance, if you mention Saturday's swim class on Thursday, and you hear nothing but moaning and complaining, try to schedule in some extra connection time. Playlisten around swimming, or spend some extra time doing Special Time, and listen to any cries that come up when the timer sounds.
- Get Present: When we adults think about changing activities or leaving, our attention often wanders. That’s normal, natural, and totally ok and yet it can still register with your little one and cause them tension. That’s when Special Time can be so useful. Use Special Time to really get present, stop frantic hurry and nervous tension mounting, keep calm and fill your child’s cup with your attention. You’ll find even a few minutes can help.
- Get Playful: Making a transition as fun as possible helps move a child beyond final hesitations. Give a piggy back, have a race to the table or to the car, betting your child you'll get there first (but then letting them). Wear something outrageous so your child has to “dress you,” or try putting on their shoes and then make a big show wondering why they don't fit. Anything that gets your kids laughing or gives them a bit of extra power over what's happening can really help in those final transitionary moments. There's many more ideas in this post.
Get ready to leave the house smiling…
Try these ideas and you’ll step out of the door not only on time, but with a spring in your step too. Imagine that.
Have you ever used Special Time ahead of a transition?
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