Kids & Transitions

By Kathy Keith, TLC Occupational Therapist

Transitions can be hard… for all of us. This is something I am acutely aware of during this current season we like to call “back to school.” As a mom and an Occupational Therapist, I regularly see the challenges associated with transition periods in kids (and sometimes, grown-ups too).  These can range from the transition of going from kindergarten into 1st grade, to transitioning between play activities, to transitioning from just getting out of the house and into the car. Personally, I see the flurry of disorganization and dole out hundreds of reminders trying to get my own crew out the door in the morning (do I really need to remind a 12 year old to brush her teeth?). Professionally, I often see families with children who are unable to seamlessly transition from activity to activity. 

The following strategies are a few ways that may help with difficult transition times, and will hopefully help with increasing independence as well!

  • Create a routine

Children crave routine and structure! It helps them feel safe and understand what will be happening next, or what to expect. For example, a bedtime routine could be: jammies on, brush teeth, one book, then bed.

If bedtime always looks the same, it can increase the child’s independence in completing the steps themselves, and decrease struggles with caretakers.

A schedule to help make transitions run smoothly

  • Make a schedule

Kiddos also respond well to visual schedules. At TLC, we use pictures to show the kids what the day will look like. The pictures are arranged in order of when parts of the day happen (circle time, snack, outside, free play). If the day will look different from a typical day for any reason, the change is noted in the schedule. A child I see at TLC was very anxious about what he would be doing during our sessions. He would ask questions repeatedly and become very upset if there was something in the room that was unfamiliar to him when he walked in. We have a routine now, of sitting together first thing and drawing our schedule on the board.  It allows him to understand what his time with me will look like, gives him some control of the activities, and keeps him organized as we mark off the activities that we have completed together.  His anxiety has lessened significantly throughout his time coming to TLC, and now he is much more able to try novel things.

Schedules can be as specific or as general as you need. Some kiddos benefit from a personal schedule that they keep with them, while others can check in with a general schedule to help keep them organized and knowledgeable throughout the day. At home, you can experiment with something as simple as a white board that allows you to draw pictures or write words depending on what is appropriate or works for your child.  It can be specific like the morning routine, or it can be more broad, as in what will happen that next day, or week (or both!).

At our house, typing up a general list of “to-do’s” before getting out the door helps immensely. Instead of me needing to ask what has and has not been done (“Did you brush your teeth?  Did you pack your lunch?  Did you get your book?  Do you have your backpack?”), my one direction is: “check your list.” 

A photo routine that can be used at home

  • Give consistent cues

Transitioning between activities can be challenging, too. Giving a consistent visual cue (turning off or dimming the lights), giving a “2 minute” warning or singing a transition song, can help prepare the child for change.  These transition songs are nothing complex.  Mine often consist of a silly song about what we are completing and what will be next and is regularly sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “BINGO”.

We all benefit from the comfort of predictability.  For our kiddos, providing routines and schedules not only helps with some of the struggles related to transitions and change, but helps them develop a sense of security and control, and supports increased confidence and independence.  This is what we all want for all our kids.

A photo schedule on Velcro in a TLC classroom

To learn more about how working with an Occupational Therapist may help your child, or to learn about how our classrooms help build independence in children, contact TLC at (303)776-7417.