A very exhausted Erica S. of Louisville, TN writes, “I have a four year old son diagnosed with autism. He has a very difficult time stopping what he’s doing when it’s time to eat lunch, clean up, or go for a walk outside. Once I talk him down and he gets started doing the next thing, he doesn’t want to stop doing that and we have another tantrum! Is there anything I can do to help him transition between activities without tears?” In this edition of Ask The Expert, Scott Kouri attempts to help Erica out with a few tips on transitioning.
Many parents will tell you that young children of all types often have trouble transitioning from one activity to another. This behavior, however, is somewhat more prominent in children with autism, ADHD or hyperactivity, and other learning disabilities. A simple request to put a toy away for story time or lunch time can suddenly turn into a power struggle complete with tantrums, crying and a time-out for both the child and the parent.
So how do you make transitioning between activities less frustrating for everyone? Try turning transitions into a more visual and auditory experience with these tips:
- Visual schedules can be a huge help in both transitioning and teaching children how to manage time. Visual schedules are easy to find or make yourself and, by posting one on the wall of the child’s room or on the refrigerator, you can show your child exactly what their daily activities will be.
- Prepare your child for an upcoming change in activities in advance. Make sure you have their attentions, then use a calm firm voice to let them know when the change is coming with statements like “Lunch in fifteen minutes” or “We’re going to get ready for bed in ten minutes.” Again, visual cues can be very helpful for children. Have a picture of the activity in front of them or point to your visual schedule if it’s within sight so they understand what’s coming up.
- Visual timers are also useful in showing a child just how much time they have left before changing activities. As you let your child know how much time is left with their activity, set the timer and place it somewhere where he can see it for himself. The timer will also have an auditory chime to let the child know that time is up.
- Remember to give your child constant updates. Use your calm firm voice to repeat the same short sentence you used earlier, such as “Lunch time in five minutes” or “We’re going to get ready for bed in three minutes.” Say the same short sentence each time.
- When time’s up, let your child know with a firm command. The timer’s chime will be a good reinforcement that it’s time to switch activities, too. You may also want to give an additional auditory signal such as ringing a bell.
- Make sure you give your child your full attention and praise the child for any signs of cooperation. A cheerful “Way to go!” or “You did so great putting your toy away!” can be a big help in gently easing your child toward the next activity.
- If your child is still resistant, remember that distraction is your friend. Make the transition fun by racing them to the next activity. Make up a silly song that guides them to their new focus. Hand them one of the tools they’ll need for their next activity, or give them a favorite toy to being along.
In the end, it’s going to take a lot of patience and practice to help your child easily transition between activities. Just stay firm and focused, keep them updated both visually and aurally, and remember to make your child feel good about transitioning throughout the process. With a little time, you’ll find a routine that keeps your day moving and the two of you very happy.
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