We have all found it challenging in one way or another when something unexpected happens or didn’t go our way. These situations can lead to feelings of frustration, fear and even anxiety. When children experience these emotions during transitions, it can often lead to a tantrum or a meltdown. These emotional outbursts are often either the result of the child being overwhelmed by their emotions or learned behaviour to successfully delay or avoid the transition.
Being asked to stop one thing and start another is a very common trigger for challenging behaviour, particularly in children who have emotional or developmental challenges. Transitions can be simple changes, such as being asked to move from one task to another or being told that it’s time to leave the playground.
Difficulties managing transitions directly relate to an individual’s skills in regulating emotions such as anger and fear. Children are not born with the skills to regulate these emotions, but rather develop them over time through being shown and taught by those around them.
Tips for effective transitions:
Visually timed warnings
Visual timers can provide a more tangible way of telling children how much time is left of an activity. Verbal forewarnings often do not provide this level of understanding of what is expected. For older children, time timers, or timers on a mobile phone or clock can also be effective.
Use a visual schedule
Using a visual schedule that outlines the key aspects of your child’s day can be an extremely effective way of outlining what is expected of them. It also helps to decrease feelings of anxiety, fear and can make children feel more in control. For children who are able to read a simple list of activities, or words with pictures can also be effective.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
Acknowledging your child’s feelings and reassuring them when plans change suddenly—for example, “I understand you are frustrated. I am frustrated too. Sometimes plans change, but we can go to the park on another day when it is not raining.” This modelling can help children to develop their emotional regulation skills.
Movement or sensory breaks
Implementing movement breaks between transitions, (for example when moving children from sitting on the floor to desk-based activities) can be a great way to ease children into the transition and provide regulating sensory input.
Writing a social story for your child, or finding a suitable one online can also be an extremely effective way of communicating what is expected of your child in a particular situation or scenario. They can also help to decrease anxiety about a particular environment or situation and suggest tools that the child can use to assist them to manage in the situation.