Tips for Helping Your Child with Transitions

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Dealing with transitions can be hard for anybody but for the child who has ADHD or other learning disabilities, transitions can be particularly problematic.   What are transitions?   They are the time periods where one switches from one activity to another.  During the course of the usual day at school or home there are usually many transitions which pose multiple risks for confusion, frustration, or even meltdowns in behavior.

Why are transitions so difficult for some children who have learning disabilities?

There are many reasons why these times can be anxiety provoking.   One reason may be that the child is switching from a preferred activity that he or she enjoys to one which is less preferred and they sometimes do not understand the reason for this switch.   Another reason transitions may induce worry is that the child is unable to predict what is coming next.   Without external cues they may feel the stress of not being able to control or predict their environment.   Still yet another cause of problems during transitional times is that these times are usually unstructured and the child may not understand what to do and get sidetracked by other stimuli (sounds, people, objects) in their environment.

So it is a good idea to be proactive about dealing with transitions so that you are not in the position of always having to react to the child's coping mechanisms during these times.

What are some strategies which can help during transitions?

I will first give you some general strategies for dealing with transitions and then provide more detailed advice geared for some specific situations.

  • It sometimes helps to have a visual schedule for your child. These are fairly easy to make. You get photos or icons of the activities for the day and place them in sequential order on piece of laminated cardboard. Here is a wonderful web site which assists you to create your own visual schedule.

  • Provide periodic warnings for when one activity is going to end and another one will begin. There is a device which many teachers and parents use for their children to give them a tangible sense of time called the Time Timer. Here is their website.

  • Give them something to do during the transition. A written check off list of activities and tasks where they must put a check to denote that an activity is finished may be of help to some children.

Some specific situations* ** Car rides:** When you think about it, car rides are a huge transition. You are in flux between destinations and this time can bring out some of the worst behaviors in children. Provide something to do during car rides. Music with headphones, video games, and DVDs can help the child to bide the time until you get to where you are going. I have a little travel bag for my son with books, markers, and pads of paper which goes with us on most car rides. Supplying my son with things to do during the car ride has helped immensely.

  • Making the switch from enjoyable activities to less preferred activities: While it is not always feasible, it can be advantageous to set up your child's environment so that you switch this scenario around. When possible, try to schedule a rewarding activity following a less enjoyable activity. A "first/then" schedule can be created where you show the less preferred activity (let's say taking a bath) as the first thing he or she will do and the second activity will be something he or she finds rewarding such as eating popcorn or whatever your child enjoys. You tell your child, "First you will take a bath" and then you may have some popcorn. It gives the child something to look forward to.
  • Switching classes: In the typical school, a child must learn to go to different classes and also retrieve the needed items for that next class. Children who have ADHD may have particular problems during these times as they may become distracted and forget what they are to bring with them from their locker. Putting up a check off list on the inside of the locker door of what items they need for each class may be just the tangible reminder that they need for this transition.

I hope these tips and suggestions are useful.   Transitions can be hard but with some planning ahead your child will learn to deal with them a little easier.   Now how about you?   Does your child have problems with transitions?   What ways have you found to deal with these unstructured periods of time?   Do share your experiences and suggestions as you just might help someone else in the process.   We want to hear what you have to say