One question I get time and again is, “How can I move my child from one activity to the next without it turning into a major battle, every time?” Children like to march to the beat of their own drum and set the pace. Sometimes it is at lightning speed but never, it seems, when we need it to be. The constant battle to get our children out the door, into the car, into the grocery cart, out of the grocery cart, down for a nap, to the dinner table, into the bathtub, out of the bathtub, into pajamas or into bed is never ending. Guess what you are working against here, power and independence. Yes, power and independence are what preschoolers are honed in on and it enters into every aspect of their day. All you want is to tuck them peacefully into bed and all they want is power and independence and just one more kiss.
So what to do? Below are a few practical ideas to help you through your day.
Ideas for Smooth Transitions
Avoid implying that a transition is voluntary if it is not. For example, instead of saying, “Emma, would you like to put your toys away?” state, “Emma, it’s time to put your toys away.”
Praise your child for handling transitions well!!!
Make it Fun
Make transitions a fun activity. “Can you jump up and down all the way to the door?” or “How about we find all the pink trees on the drive home?”
Allow Enough Time
If your child finds transitions particularly challenging, consider building more time into each activity to allow for the extra time they need to adjust.
Don’t Give In
It is okay for your child to let you know she’s disappointed about having to leave the park. That is natural; it’s good she can express what she feels. On the other hand, if she acts up or throws a tantrum, be careful not to reward the behavior by allowing more time in the activity. Be understanding, but also be clear and firm and gently insist that she does what you ask.
Have a predictable routine in place. When children are always expecting the unexpected they cannot settle and relax. Children may meet each change of activity with defiance or a tantrum because they are not mentally prepared. A routine, on the other hand allows you to ease them through the stages telling them what’s going to come next so they don’t feel rushed or surprised.
Capture the Moment
When something must be put away take a photo of his work. Print it out for him to have on hand.
When a child needs to walk away from their play, for any reason; heading to school, time to run errands, dinner, bed time, place a "Please Save" sign on his work. The sign should include his name and can be used on just about anything; train tracks, Legos, puzzles, art work... It provides the security of knowing his treasured item will be there upon his return. Now your job is to enforce this rule and make certain it goes untouched. He will begin to feel secure about walking away knowing he can pick up right where he left off.
Make it Concrete
Instead of giving children a two minute warning, be more concrete. When it is time to leave the park state, "You can go down the slide two more times and then we will be leaving". If she is in the middle of building a train track, "Put in two more pieces and then we will go". State it confidently and stick to it! If you do not hold yourself and her to it she will negotiate and complain now and for years to come.
Talk through your routine. Give him a heads up of what is coming next.
Particularly when trying to get out the door. Limit the number of shoes. Only have one coat available each season. Put summer clothes away in the winter. Build in choice when you have the time and energy to support the process. Choosing a book to read is the perfect opportunity or choosing which game to play after dinner.
When needed state, “When the timer goes off it is time to get out of the bath, pick up your toys, go to the park, leave the park, read a book, eat dinner, go to bed, put on your shoes…”, the opportunities for use are endless. The beauty is the timer is in charge. A toddler can not negotiate with a timer. Very effective at reducing power struggles. Make certain you stick with what you say. When that timer goes off, follow through immediately.
If your child is constantly insisting on one more book create a book basket. Before you start reading have her select a designated (by you) number of books you have time to read and place them in the basket. Once the basket is empty reading time is over. Do not let her talk you into more. All adults using this tool must be consistent for it to work.
Parent Educator Katie Becker, writes about parenting from Seattle Washington. As a parent educator, education professional, and parent coach, Katie has been working with children and their families for over 20 years, from Detroit to Seattle. In addition to her work as Parent Educator for Woodland Park's Summer Co-op Katie runs Thrive, an independent parent coaching practice that works with parents of children 18 months to 12 years of age.