Transitions Can be Easier

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There are so many transitions built into a family’s day. For children, this may include the shift to getting dressed, leaving the house, stopping play, finishing projects, cleaning up, coming to the table for meals, going upstairs for bath and settling in bed for sleep. All of these steps can have small transitions within which can be a lot.

Real and consistent warning – Most children transition better when given warnings. It is helpful to use the same language and mean the same amount of time for each warning. When my girls were younger I said, “we are done in five minutes, finish up,” and, “one more minute, do your last thing.” When I said this, I was also sure to say five minutes and mean five minutes. If sometimes it meant two minutes because I was in a hurry, or it meant twenty minutes because I got distracted, the warnings weren’t as helpful. Even before children can tell time, the consistency is helpful.

Additional cues – It can be helpful to build in additional cues. This might be a visual cue like flipping the lights, a physical cue like a transition high-five or an auditory cue like ringing a bell. This is just another consistent signal that it’s time for a transition.

Proximity – If your child tends to ignore or run away at the start of transitions, it can be helpful to stand beside them or even hold their hand just before the transition starts.

Empathy (limit as needed) – This would be saying, “I’m sorry you are frustrated, but it’s time to go upstairs.” When you acknowledge emotions, emotions tend to calm. It’s often helpful to state the limit in a calm way.

Positive directions – This is a reminder to state your directions in the positive. This is saying, “come back and clean up the toys,” rather than, “stop running around.” Here is a full post about positive directions.

Ask their plan or their first step – Asking how they are going to get started can help a child focus on the task and move forward.

Build in choices, challenges and contribution – For going upstairs choices would be, “do you want to walk or crawl upstairs,” or, “do you want to brush teeth first or change into pajamas when you get upstairs?” Challenges would be, “let’s race up stairs. Ready, go!” Contribution would be, “I need a toothpaste squeezer.”

Focus on the good in the next thing – Want your child to stop playing, go upstairs and take a bath? You might focus on how many bubbles they can make with the bubble bath or which toys they’d like to play with in the tub.

Give descriptive praise when it goes well – This would be, “you listened the first time. That is helpful!” or, “you went upstairs so fast. You were super speedy!” You want to reinforce this behavior, so describe the behavior and give it a label. Here is a full post about descriptive praise.

A post on better clean-up times

A post on better morning routines

A post on better bedtime routines

 

 

Getting a Three-Year-Old Out the Door in the Morning

Hi Dr. Rene,

I have a three-year and two-month old son. In the last month or so, it has been extremely difficult to get him to cooperate, so we can leave the house. He runs away when I try to get him dressed, get shoes and coat on, etc., and it is making it challenging to be on time for important things like picking his sister up from school. I try to leave extra time, but nothing so far has helped. If we are going somewhere he wants to go, it is a little easier, but he often says he wants to stay home and play, so it is very difficult when he does not want to go where we are going. Sometimes, if we cannot be a minute later, I have to force his shoes on and carry him to the car. It is very frustrating, and I know that he knows he has control over the situation when he runs away laughing as I follow him around with socks and shoes and a coat! How do I avoid making it a power struggle?  Also, if he refuses to put a coat on, and it’s cold out, should I let him go out without a coat? If I give him choices, he will tell me “neither.”  Thanks for any advice!

Sincerely, Amy

Mom of two

Hi Amy,

This is such a common time of day to struggle with children. I think the only time that tops getting out of the house is getting them in bed. The first thing I would do is build a schedule. Start by deciding what time you need to leave, let’s say this is 8:00 a.m. in the morning. Then, make a list of all the things that need to happen before you can leave, and decide about how much time can go for each. Then add 10 minutes, work your way backwards from 8:00 a.m. to figure out what time you and the kids need to get up and moving. That extra 10 minutes is time for him to work towards and you set it aside for him to play with legos, look at books or play with his trains. This way you can remind him, if you are getting dressed quickly you will have time for trains. It also give you a bit of a buffer, if the morning isn’t going well you have 10 extra minutes built in.

Really think through the order and logistics of things. If you are forever chasing him to get shoes on at the last minute, have his shoes on as part of getting dressed or shoes before breakfast. If you rush around each morning to pack his school bag, make packing his school bag part of the evening routine instead.

Once you have your schedule, work with your child to make it visual. Take pictures of him going through the process, find pictures online of the activities or help him draw the pictures, and then make a poster of the steps. Give him choices, if you can, about the order of the morning or of activities for how to spend his 10 minutes.

Then think job and choices. Jobs are making him the shoe picker or the cereal pourer and the light switcher on the way out or the car key carrier to unlock the door and let everyone in. These are easy and fun ways to help him buy into the behavior. An individual job may only be interesting for a day or two while others may be interesting for a few weeks (like the car key carrier or radio tuner). Choices are asking does he want to get dressed on the bed or the floor, does he want cereal or oatmeal or does he want his red coat or blue. Choices work because they share power. When he says “neither” to choices, you can reply, “you can choose, or I will choose for you.” If he participates then, fine. If not, you can choose for him and move on.

When all else fails, consequences are fair game. It is fine to say, “if you don’t have your shoes on, your feet might be cold,” and then swoop him up and go, putting the shoes on later. Hopefully, if you can accept this as just a part of the plan, it will be less frustrating when you use them.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

 

 

Want a Better Morning Routine with Kids?

Family Using Digital Devices At Breakfast Table

Believe me, I know, mornings in a busy house with kids can be tough. There are several guidelines that can help in this hectic transition time.

  • Build a real routine – Many families have a solid bedtime routine, but fewer have a great morning routine. If you are one of those winging it in the morning families, it is time to get a routine. Start by deciding what time you want to walk out the door. Next, list all the things that need to happen before that from wake-up to out, and decide about how much time you’ll need for each step. Working backwards gives you a wake-up time.
  • End with fun so you have something to work towards and a buffer – Now take that well planned schedule and bump everything earlier by 10 minutes. Set aside this bit of time at the end for the kids to do something enjoyable. This may be reading or lego time, it may be time with the puppy. This gives your kids something to work towards, and gives you a 10 minute buffer for sanity’s sake.
  • Get visual – Work with your child to make a chart or a poster including the steps of your new routine. Let them make the decisions to write a chart, draw pictures or take pictures for the illustrations. Give them time to decorate it and make it their own. Put it somewhere easily visible to all.
  • Stick to the schedule – Help your child make it through the routine, and have the 10 minutes for something enjoyable at least a few mornings. Make it your goal to stick to the schedule for a month, a routine only helps if you do it.
  • Think logistics for sticking points – If getting dressed is a battle, put it first rather than last in the routine. Make a rule that breakfast is for dressed people. If you’re really desperate, have them sleep in their next day clothes (at least the shirt, underwear and socks).
  • Give jobs – To keep kids in the routine, it may be helpful to give them individual responsibilities as they go. Make one the toothpaste squeezer, another the cereal pourer. Titles are appealing to younger children. Think to rotate jobs every few days.
  • Give choices – Choices allow the child some power. Here and there, share a bit. Ask, “do you want cereal or oatmeal this morning?” or, “do you want to wear shorts or a skirt?” or, “do you want to get dressed by yourself or with help?”
  • Give challenges – Can they get dressed before you? Can they get to the table faster this morning than yesterday?
  • Do what you can the night before – In our house, homework isn’t complete until it is in the backpack and by the front door with all papers signed. Some gung-ho families make lunches the night before and lay out clothes. Every little bit helps.
  • As they are able, give them more responsibility in the process – If you trust, let them take over the tooth brushing. If they do, let them wake-up by an alarm.
  • Plan with simple and healthy in mind for breakfast – It’s great if you can cook a full hot breakfast every morning. I am not knocking that at all, in fact I’d like to wake-up at your house! I often cook on the weekends, but go the easy route on weekdays keeping health in mind. We do a lot of scrambled eggs, hard-boiled before eggs, whole grain cereal, yogurt, cheese sticks, toast and fruit salad. Things that take just a minute or two, and we can keep well stocked.
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