Transitions

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 Questions
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
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.
 
Predictable Routines
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.
 
Please Save!
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.
 
Talking Clock
Talk through your routine.  Give him a heads up of what is coming next.
 
Limit Choices
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.

Timer
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.
 
Book Basket
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.

Finding a Sense of Summer Calm

I have spent the last 15 years teaching my children to say please and thank you, tie their shoes, button buttons, wear a helmet, look both ways before crossing the street, make pancakes, pick up their rooms, load the dishwasher, ride a bike, advocate for themselves, reach out to a friend in need, drive a car (yikes!), kick a soccer ball, and read.  So much thought and energy has gone into some very active parenting. As my husband says, I sometimes over think it. Yet, through all of this I never consciously taught my children how to deal with stress, anxiousness, anger, frustration or disappointment. Yes, I have been by their side in moments of unhappiness and helped them through their emotions but I never taught them self-calming skills.
 
How wonderful it would be to move throughout the day with an ability to recover from anger, sadness, frustration or disappointment with relative ease. This is not to say that I don’t ever want my children to experience these very human emotions, it’s more about how well they move through it and back to a place of calm.  Why didn’t I think of this until now?  A few reasons; my parents never actively taught me, it was not being discussed when I was in co-op and it simply never occurred to me.
 
As my daughter entered her freshmen year of high school and the stress level rose I realized I had dropped the ball. Stress was boiling over and neither she nor I knew how to deal with it.  Good news, it is never too late to learn.  She started a teen yoga class, realized that music was her perfect outlet and started writing in a journal when she simply needed to get it all out.  We tried active moments of quiet and visualization. Visualization was quickly dropped while quiet moments are a regular part of her day.
 
Below are a few ideas on how to teach young children self-calming skills.  For additional ideas Elizabeth Crary, parent educator with North Seattle College has a wonderful resource (found online) called Self-Calming Cards. I have a deck in my bag if you ever want to take a look.
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Steps for Teaching Kids How to Find a Sense of Calm
 
Identify Feelings:  Take time throughout your day to label feelings. These can be the feelings of characters in books, movies, friends, strangers or feelings you or they are having. Review possible cues that a person is feeling happy, sad, mad, or angry. Not only can you see it on their face but internally they may have a yucky feeling in their stomach, feel warm inside, skin is hot, shaky, dizzy, skin crawling… Ask your child how he feels when he is happy, sad, frustrated, angry…  This should all be done during a relaxing time of day.  I would suggest in the car, at the dinner table, or while hanging out reading a book.
 
Role model: When you are feeling happy, sad, frustrated or angry talk it through. For example, “I am so frustrated I can’t get this jar open. My stomach feels tight and I want to yell.”  Role model a calming down strategy that brings you to a place of calm.
 
Calming Strategy:  Training the brain to respond to a calming down trigger can be very effective.  Each night, at the end of your bedtime routine, lay in bed with your child for a few minutes. When she is nice and calm have her put one hand on her chest and the other on her abdomen.  She can take deep breaths or breathe naturally.  Lie beside her and do the same.  Make this a regular part of their bedtime routine so they can master the strategy.  When her frustration level starts to rise suggest she put her hand on her chest and abdomen and breath.


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.


Preserving Summer Fun

As I look ahead to summer I find myself slowing down, just a little, and easing into what I hope to be a long relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the school year.  I envision lazy mornings in pajamas, picnic lunches at the beach, and long evenings of snuggling in with my kids to read just one more chapter of The Hobbit before lights out. Email drops away, spontaneous invitations for barbecues pop up and the summer slowly unfolds before us. 

As I paint this picture, there is a nagging image in the back of my mind; one of tired and grumpy kids, one of siblings bickering and one of teen emotions boiling over.  What has happened to my ideal summer?  Ah yes, that all important basic need sleep or should I say a lack of.  Those late night gatherings with friends and that burning desire to finish one more chapter have all added up pushing bedtime later and later.

The trick is how to have that relaxing, easy going summer I dream of while maintain some balance in the house. This is where my parent educator mind kicks into gear, routines. Routines are the cornerstone to keeping things in check. Routines ensure that our children are in bed at an appropriate hour and that they get enough food in their bodies during the day. In short, routines ensure that our children’s basic needs are met.

When emotions are over flowing and you cannot seem to get past 9:00am without multiple melt downs, take a look at your routines. Has bedtime slowly creeped later, are naps being skipped, or have family meals, where you can ensure calories are really being consumed, fallen by the wayside?  This just might be the answer to your peaceful summer. Weave those relaxed and spontaneous moments with some predictability and you may just get a little more of that summer you dream of. 

Why Are Routines So Important?

  • An organized and predictable home environment helps children feel safe and secure.
     
  • Small children function best when things are predictable and when more or less the same thing happens at the same time each day.
  • A bedtime routine will establish good sleeping patterns.

  • A dinnertime routine establishes the importance of family interaction.

  • Routines built around fun, play or time together strengthens relationships between parents and children.  Reading a story before bed can become a special time you spend with your child.

  • Daily routines help set our body clocks – for example, bedtime routines cue children’s bodies that it is time to sleep.

  • Routines are a way of teaching your child ways to stay healthy such as brushing teeth, exercising or washing hands after using the toilet.

  • When children are always expecting the unexpected they can’t settle and relax.  They may meet each change of activity with defiance or a tantrum because they are not mentally prepared for it.  A routine, on the other hand, allows you to ease them through the stages, telling them what is going to come next so they do not feel rushed or surprised.

  • Routines build consistency into family life. 

  • Hot spots in your day may be resolved by simply tweaking your routine.  Are children over tired?  Move bedtime a little earlier.  Are they cranky just before meals?  Give them something to tide them over.


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.

Avoid Problems Before They Can Arise

Here are a few tips for avoiding problems and annoying behaviors by your children -- before they happen.

Place frequently used items in same, easy to find spot every time (shoes, coat…).  If need be, place on top of the refrigerator, they are sure to stay put. 

Avoid offering too many choices.

  • Only have one jacket, one pair of shoes… within sight and available.
  • Put winter clothing away in summer and summer away in winter.

  • Store a portion of your toys. Too many choices can be overwhelming. And, when they reappear it will feel like a whole new set of toys.

Avoid planting ideas (and avoid projecting).

  • “Do not throw that food on the floor.” vs. “Food stays on your plate or in your mouth.”

  • “I know you are not excited about going with mom to the store but please control yourself.” vs. “It’s time to go to the store.  Let’s see how many red cars we can find along the way.”

  • “She isn’t saying hello because she is really shy.  It’s Okay.”  vs. “When we get to school let’s say hello to Ms. Gray together.  Then she will know we are happy to see her.  We can look her in the eyes when we do it.  That way we will know she has heard us.”

  • “My son is afraid of dogs so I am going to hold him while we are here.”  vs.  “Let’s stand back here and say hello to the dog together.”

Take note of patterns of misbehavior.  Be ready to address problems before they can escalate. It is far easier to change behavior if you can catch it before it happens.

  • Your daughter’s soccer coach has asked the players to not touch the goals.  Yet, she still snatches the goal and runs with it every week.  The moment you see her making a move to grab the goal jump in and correct the behavior.  Don’t let it get too far.

  • Your son has started hitting.  When he is playing with others stay close, the moment you see his hand moving into the hitting motion jump in.  Gently guide his hand and words towards something appropriate.   

Timers are a great tool for getting through the day.  They take the power struggle away from the parent and child.  A watch or cell phone works well.   Any time you need to move onto a new activity give a warning, “We will be heading to the car when the timer goes off.”  There are endless uses.

  • Time for your sister’s turn on my lap.

  • Time to eat dinner.

  • Time to go to the park.

  • Time to get ready for bed.

  • Time to leave your friends house.

Accept appropriate communication.  Addressing this at a young age will make life much easier later.

  • Whining/Grunting -- Do not respond to whines and grunts.  Simply provide children with the appropriate language and do not meet their needs until they have changed their tone.  “I will give you the yogurt when I hear Emma’s voice”

  • Manners -- Do not respond to a child’s request until they have said please.  Mastering this skill takes years. They will need loads of reminders.  Role model good manners:  at the grocery store, bank, with your spouse, with your children.

Defuse = Life Happens!  Get your child familiar with the idea that sometimes, “life happens.”  Acknowledge feelings, but do not dwell on them.  Sometimes we need to just pick up and move on.

Spend quality one-on-one time with your children.  Have fun together!  Plan special date nights with individual parents.

Try a family game night.

Be an active listener.  Get down on their level, comment specifically on what they have said and acknowledge their feelings.

Show affection towards your children.

Establish predictable routines.

When possible try ignoring negative behavior.  When children misbehave it may simply be that they are looking for a reaction/attention.  Whether they receive negative or positive attention does not matter. Try busying yourself with another activity before jumping in. The behavior may just take care of itself.  

Be consistent. Whether this means leaving the park after a two-minute warning, not giving into whining or following through on a consequence consistency is key.  This small change in parenting will make a huge difference in behavior.  Children will still put up a fight, but once they realize you are going to stand by what you say, the battles will lessen.


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.