7 Tips for Tantrum and Tear-Free Transitions

All children need help from grown-ups in managing transitions, or changes, in their lives. Some transitions are small, like finishing breakfast and transitioning to brushing teeth. Others are much bigger, like going to a grandparent's house for the weekend. Here are some tried-and-true tips to make those transitions a little smoother:


1. Give many warnings over time. Use verbal cues, an alarm or visual timer.

Help your child prepare for the transition! You can use a verbal cue such as, "We will leave for the grocery store in 15 minutes... 10 minutes... 5 minutes... 2 minutes." Some children do best with verbal warnings, while others will appreciate a simple chime from your cellphone alarm at planned intervals. Still others will need to use a visual timer, egg timer, or hourglass so they can see how much time is left and plan accordingly.

2. Use “first, then” statements. 

Get down on your child's level, have him give his hands to you, make sure you get eye contact, and speak with calm confidence. "First we will put on our shoes and jackets, then get into the car and buckle up." You can have him repeat back the next steps to make sure he heard. When the transition actually happens, your child will have already heard your instructions once and will know your expectations. 

3. Make it a game.

Many kids are want to have fun, compete or test out their abilities. Here are some fun ideas for making a transition into a game: 

  • Racing. Using two baskets or plastic totes, who can clean up the most blocks in 2 minutes? Or, separate the blocks into two equal piles, and see who can get all their blocks away first. You can also race against a short song or a timer.

  • Silly Challenges. Can your child put his shoes on with his eyes closed? Can your child put his velcro shoes on using only his non-dominant hand? Make sure you give tons of praise for effort and don't forget to laugh! This is supposed to be silly!

4. Use a movement-based ritual.

Create a special handshake, movement sequence or dance move to do together each time you leave the house, complete a clean-up, buckle up in the car, or say goodbye at the morning school drop-off. Rituals that incorporate the body are deeply soothing to kids. Even though a transition or change is happening, the familiar ritual helps comfort and reassure your child. It is predictable and fun.

5. Use a song.

Songs can be so wonderful to help with transitions! There are many "clean up" songs, "goodbye" and "hello" songs, and others for all sorts of transitions because our elders know that music works! You can use a traditional kids song such as "Row, row, row your boat" or "Twinkle, twinkle little star," explaining that, "Once the song is over, we will both we at the door with shoes on. Let's see if we can do it!" Made-up, ridiculous songs encouraged!  

6. Give heaps of empathy.

Transitions are hard for kids. It may seem like a small change for us. As adults we have weathered many, many changes already, so we know that during a small transition we are safe. For kids this isn't always so! Sometimes it feels like they may never again get to play with their stuffed animals. Sometimes it really does feel like the end of the world! So, don't hold back any compassion for your children. Give them words for their experience: "You really don't like cleaning up!" "I bet you're worried we won't have any fun at the library!" "Saying goodbye is really sad sometimes." "When you have to stop your game in the middle it's really frustrating!" Hugs can go a long way, too.

7. Explain when your child can resume a preferred activity.

Kids need to know that this isn't the very last time they will ever go swimming. If we can mark it out on a calendar or schedule when they can come back to their fun, this helps. 


Having trouble with transitions? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

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