October 9, 2017

Child Therapy: Tips for Transitions

Tom Reynolds

Starting your day might be as simple as a wave goodbye, or as difficult as a tantrum. Transitions can be challenging for many children, whether it may be going to the doctors, leaving a birthday party, or washing hands for dinner.

Keep some of these tips and strategies in your toolbox when a transition issue occurs in your daily routine:

Smooth Transition Tips

  • Fair warning. Allowing at least 5 minutes before an activity ends. This prepares your child for a quick transition. Make it visible by using a timer on your phone or Ipad so your child can easily determine how much time is left. If appropriate, keep a timer going for the entire activity and refer to the clock periodically giving verbal reminders, “we are halfway done”, “10 more minutes”, “Time to clean up in 2 minutes”
  • Concrete number. If a timer is not available or needed, use backwards counting as a reminder. For example, “Five more pushes on the swing, 5-4-3-2-1 all done”. Stick to the number you decided on to reinforce consistency even if your child asks for the inevitable “one more”
  • Special signal. Determine a shared signal to indicate when an activity is over. Examples include turning off the lights, singing the clean up song, or signing ‘all done’
  • Visual schedule. A visual schedule is a great tool for your child to visualize the finished activities, and prepare them for the future activities. If the day includes some non-preferred activities, add in a few preferred activities (snack break, 5 minute screen time, play outside, etc) so your child has something to work towards. Choicework is a great resource to create a visual schedule on the iPad.
  • Transition toy. Bringing along a familiar toy or object can help children remain calm and feel safe during a period of change.
  • Waiting game. Transitions can become even harder if there is a waiting period involved. Come up with some fun waiting games (I spy and Simon Says) during stressful moments. Games may also be used to distract during transitions, for example racing to the car, counting your steps, or singing a familiar song as you are walking.
  • Social stories. Transitions are difficult because they involve change from a familiar activity to something new. Talk through new situations with a visual storyboard. If making a storyboard seems daunting, practice acting out the situation ahead of time!
  • Transition words. Children need to learn concepts such as first, then, next, later, and now before they can understand the words used during transitions. Use the words in less stressful situations such as playing, “First you throw the ball, then I catch the ball”. Once they understand the words during play, these words will become easier to comprehend during transitions.

It may take a few trials and errors before finding the best strategy for your family. Be sure to allot enough time during transitions in case of possible setbacks. It is important to keep a consistent schedule. Once your child becomes familiar with the weekly routine, transitions will start to become second nature.



Heffron, Claire. “10 Calming Techniques and Transition Strategies for Kids.” The Inspired Treehouse, 20 Sept. 2017, theinspiredtreehouse.com/transition-strategies-preventing-tantrums-during-daily-routine/.

Oakley , Bec. “18 Tips To Make Transitions Easier.” Snagglebox, www.snagglebox.com/article/autism-transitions-tips.

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