Why your child has difficulty transitioning

Transitions happen all throughout the day. A transition can be from one activity to another, moving from the classroom to the playground, or going from home to school. For some children, transitions may be extremely difficult and can result in increased anxiety or frustrations and can even lead to challenging or aggressive behaviors.

Understanding difficulty in transitions

There are a number of reasons transitioning can be difficult. A few of those reasons could be that the child is tired, hungry, confused, or not ready to step away from an activity. These difficult transitions are also common for children who have trouble communicating, limited social and emotional skills, or a delay in learning. An interruption in routine is a large factor in many challenging behaviors when it comes to transitioning. Any disruption in an activity can create an imbalance in a child’s thought process and can be confusing, as well as overwhelming. 

Every child reacts differently when struggling with transitioning. A reaction to a difficult transition may be an overwhelming amount of emotions or a delay or avoidance of transition. It is important to consider the children’s needs and abilities and to plan accordingly when it comes to transitions. For example, when running errands on the weekend, it may be important to include a small break in-between to give your child some time to play. 

Creating smooth transitions

There are several different strategies that can be used in creating smooth transitions for your child throughout the day.

  • Understand a child’s trigger that makes them upset when transitioning
  • Have items or materials ready for when you transition to your next activity or place 
  • Use music, songs, or familiar noises to signal a transition
  • Use visual cues or prompts to show the next transition
  • Turn transition time into a game or activity
  • Practice transitioning (using transition words and phrases to communicate what to expect)
  • Practice communicating feelings and emotions (your child may have an easier time with a transition if they are able to communicate how they are feeling)
  • Make sure to provide praise or feedback when a transition is being accomplished
  • Implement appropriate consequences 
  • Ask your child’s teacher or caregiver for advice on transition techniques 

The most important strategy to remember when helping your child transition is to remain calm, regardless of the behavior your child is showing. Acknowledge the behavior and feelings that your child is having and remember the other strategies that you can use to help implement effective transitions into daily routines.