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Helping a Child Transition From One Activity To Another Using Verbal Cues

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Take a moment and remember the last time you were absorbed in a really good book. Or the last time you were right in the middle of trying a new recipe or craft project.

Then think about what it feels like when someone or something else demands your attention in the middle of that activity. What are some of the emotions that come up? They may include frustration, anger, exasperation, or exhaustion. Children feel these same kinds of emotions, yet don’t always have the coping skills to address them in acceptable ways.

Now put yourself back in the middle of that book, or recipe, or craft project. This time, imagine that you know ahead of time that you have to stop on page 75, or take a quick break when the noodles are boiling. Imagine that you know that after three pages of scrapbooking you’ll need to put your materials away and clean up. Knowing what to expect makes your situation a little more manageable.

Verbal cues are an absolute necessity when encouraging your child to transition from one activity to the next.

Cueing should take place before, during, and after the transition. For example:

Before: After this tower, well put the blocks away so we can have lunch.
During: Time to put the blocks away so we can have lunch.
After: Nice job putting the blocks away! Now its time for lunch.

Of course, real life doesn’t usually happen this smoothly, and that’s okay. Kids aren’t always going to like the fact that they have to stop something that they’re enjoying. Here are some steps to take to move towards smoother transitions:

  • ALWAYS use verbal cues before, during, and after a transition.
  • Use verbal cues that your child can understand. Young children don’t understand abstract time frames like 5 or 10 minutes. Use concrete references like, Three more times down the slide. Then, help your child count reminding them how many times are left after each turn. Or After Mr. Rogers, well turn the television off. Then remind your child several more times before the end of the show.
  • Picture schedules and cards can be helpful for children who have a hard time following verbal directions. Pointing to the picture of the next activity, or handing your child the picture and letting them carry it to the next activity can be helpful in transitioning. Sometimes kids simply don’t understand or cant process the verbal direction alone. This technique can be particularly helpful in classroom settings.
  • Establish and maintain regular schedules and routines in your household. When children know what to expect and can anticipate upcoming transitions, they can maintain a sense of organization and order leading to smoother transitions.
  • Allow for adequate time for children to engage in their preferred activities without interruption.

Transitions will always be difficult for your young child. Developmentally, they’re simply not well-equipped to leave an activity they’re enjoying and move to a potentially less desirable one. Keep in mind that this, like any other step in your day, will be exacerbated by lack of sleep, hunger, or illness.

Remember, even though your child may put up a fight, you are the one setting the rules and limits. If its time to leave the playground, its time to leave the playground. And luckily, at least for a little while, were bigger than they are and can scoop them up under our arms when all else fails!