Navigating Change: Strategies to Ease Transitions for Children

Navigating Change: Strategies to Ease Transitions for Children

It is well-known that humans are creatures of habit, especially children. As a result, they often need help to transition between activities, places, and objects of attention. This transition difficulty can manifest in several ways, such as resistance, avoidance, distraction, negotiation, or even full-blown meltdowns.

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind these issues and provide strategies to help ease these transitions for children.

Understanding the Difficulty with Transitions

What Does Trouble with Transitions Look Like?

As mentioned earlier, difficulty with transitions can manifest in various ways depending on the child and the setting.

For example, some children may display resistance, avoidance, distraction, negotiation, or even tantrums and meltdowns.

These reactions can result from children being overwhelmed by their emotions or learning that certain behaviors successfully delay or avoid the transition.

For instance, a child who throws a tantrum when asked to leave the playground might initially do so because they cannot manage their anger or frustration.

However, if they find that this behavior helps delay leaving the park, they are likelier to do it again.

Therefore, it is essential to understand how the adults in a child’s life have responded to such behaviors to determine the best course of action.

What’s Behind Transition Problems?

While transitions can be triggers for many children, they are particularly difficult for children with emotional and developmental issues.

These challenges can be rooted in various factors, such as ADHD, anxiety, autism, or sensory processing issues.

Understanding the reasons behind these behaviors is crucial for developing strategies to help children cope with transitions.


For children with ADHD, the transition difficulty often comes down to what they perceive as rewarding.

As a result, they may struggle to regulate their attention, focusing on activities they find rewarding and resisting those they don’t.

This resistance can be especially challenging when asked to transition from a preferred activity to a less preferable one.


For children with autism, transitions can be even more challenging due to cognitive inflexibility and the overwhelming nature of the world around them.

They may crave sameness and predictability, leading to extreme reactions when faced with deviations from their routine. In addition, any unexpected changes or transitions can disrupt their equilibrium, making the process more difficult.

Sensory Processing Challenges

Children with sensory processing issues, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis like ADHD or autism, can also struggle with transitions.

These children may be easily overstimulated and crave order to help them feel calm and in control. However, they may display resistance or problematic behaviors when faced with rapid changes.


Anxiety can also play a role in a child’s transition difficulty, as fear of the unknown or the situation can trigger distress.

For example, if a child has had an upsetting experience in a particular setting, the prospect of transitioning to that location could trigger anxiety, leading to tantrums or even aggressive behavior.

Strategies for Easing Transitions

Now that we understand the reasons behind the difficulty with transitions let’s explore some strategies that can help ease these transitions for children.

Create Routines

Consistency, routine, and structure can help children feel more secure during transitions. Building these elements into the transition process can help your child feel more at ease when faced with changes.

Preview and Count Down

Along with routines, previewing, and countdowns can be helpful tools for easing transitions. By providing a timeframe and description of what will happen during a transition, you can help your child emotionally prepare for the event.

Use a Soundtrack

For younger children, songs and music can effectively implement routines and ease transitions.

For example, familiar tunes or made-up songs can signal a transition and make the process more enjoyable for the child.

Visual Cues

Visual cues like charts or drawings can help some children better understand and cope with transitions. In addition, these cues can clearly represent what to expect during a transition or the steps involved.

Get Their Attention

For children with ADHD, it’s crucial to establish a connection and ensure you have their attention during transitions.

This could mean making eye contact, sitting beside them, touching their shoulder, or asking them to repeat your words.

Use Rewards

Rewards can be an effective tool for encouraging smooth transitions. For example, stickers, snacks, or a point system leading to tangible rewards can motivate children to cooperate during transitions.

Implement Appropriate Consequences

If a transition is not going well, addressing the issue without escalating the situation is essential.

Ignoring the behavior as long as the child is making an effort to transition can be helpful, but if the behavior becomes egregious, implementing appropriate consequences is necessary to teach the child that such behavior is off-limits.

Praise Good Transitioning

Recognizing and praising your child when transitions go well can encourage better behavior in the future.

Be specific in your praise and offer rewards when appropriate. Children can learn to navigate transitions without tantrums and resistance with proper support.

Additional Strategies for Easing Transitions

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, several other techniques can help facilitate smoother transitions for children.

  • Understand your child’s triggers that make them upset during transitions
  • Have items or materials ready for the 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 to help your child better express themselves during transitions
  • Provide praise or feedback when a transition is being accomplished
  • Implement appropriate consequences for challenging behavior during transitions
  • Ask your child’s teacher or caregiver for advice on transition techniques

By understanding the reasons behind your child’s difficulty with transitions and employing these strategies, you can help them navigate change more smoothly, reducing stress and improving overall well-being.

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