It’s been an exhausting day, yet you have managed to pick up the kids, get them outside to play in the yard and put together a decent family dinner. Feeling rather proud of yourself, you open the door to announce it’s time to stop playing and come inside to eat. In your imagination, this is the moment when both kids immediately begin cheering, exuberantly shouting their gratitude for your outstanding effort. But instead the youngest, dashes away, screaming, “No, you can’t make me!” It’s tempting to grab him and shout in his face, “You ungrateful little jerk!” But instead you sigh deeply, wondering if you are the only parent on the face of the earth, who can’t even get her kids inside the door without screaming. Lynn and I want you to know you are not alone in your frustration and it really is possible to get through the day without losing them at the door.
Stopping one thing and starting another is called a transition.
Transitions are minefields for meltdowns.
That’s because they are often synonymous with surprises; a major trigger for spirited kids.
Summer is filled with transitions.
- Shifting from sleep to awake is a transition.
- Taking off pajamas and putting on clothing is a transition.
- Going out the door and getting in the car is a transition.
- So too is opening the car door and walking into camp, leaving a friend’s house or the beach, stopping play for clean-up or bedtime, or discovering that dad is picking up the kids, instead of mom.
Fortunately the most difficult transitions tend to be predictable.
They occur daily. Yet without preparation they also have the potential to wreak havoc every time. So how can you make them better?
1. Identify the most challenging transitions. Stop and think about the 3 most difficult times of the day. Odds are, every one of them is a transition; requiring your child to stop one thing and begin another. Select one to focus on today.
2. Sit down with the kids and make a visual plan. We know, Lynn and I are always touting visual plans. That’s because they work! Once you have identified that stickiest transition, grab a piece of copy paper and draw out four to six frames like a cartoon. In each frame have the kids draw a picture of one step they will be taking to shift from one thing to the next.
Let’s take coming to dinner. The first frame includes a picture of arriving home. The second one depicts the kids playing in the yard. The third shows them coming back in the door and the fourth sitting down to eat.
3. Clarify what the consequence will be if the plan is not followed. The consequence does not have to be harsh, but it does need to be clear. For example, it might be, “If you do not come in when time is up, you will be choosing not to play outside, before dinner, the following day. Or, “If you do not come in, when asked, the next day outside play time will be shorter because it takes longer to get inside.”
Once everything is clear, “read” the plan together to review each step, and insure that everyone understands what is expected.
4. Be concrete. Young children do not have a sense of time. Even if you tell them they have twenty minutes to play. Or in five minutes they will need to stop and come in, they do not fully understand what that means. Instead give them a color timer. (You can get one at www.timetimer.com. These timers show a circle of red on a clock face so as time passes the red disappears. Even young children can “see,” and more importantly, understand, when the time is almost up.)
When there is ten minutes left, give them a forewarning. “You have ten minutes left, what do you need to do to be ready to come in?” Then, “You have two more minutes. What is one more thing you want to do?” Be specific and concrete, describing what that one thing will be. For example, one more; swing, kick of the ball, journey across the monkey bars, or dash around the perimeter of the yard. A fair forewarning includes more than a reminder of 5 more minutes, followed by a sudden declaration that time is up.
5. Do what you said you would do. If despite the visual plan and concrete forewarnings your child resists it’s time to follow through. Let him know that you will count to three. If he does not choose to walk into the house, you will carry him. And if you carry him he will have chosen not to play outside the next day. The choice will be his.
Then count, “One, you can choose to walk into the house and play outside tomorrow, or, I will choose to carry you and know you do not choose to play outside tomorrow.” Two, the statement is repeated. Three, “You did not choose to walk inside so I will choose to carry you.” This is when he insists he will do it and you must firmly state, “I’m sorry. You made a choice. Next time you can make a different one. Then carry him in the house.
6. Follow through. The next day, despite the fact that you would really, really like a bit of peace and quiet, the kids need exercise and it’s a beautiful day, do not allow your little spirited one, who failed to come in peacefully yesterday, to play outside today. We know this will take more time and effort from you. But it’s only for one day, yet the message is critical. Mom really does do what she said she would do.
Now there might be a little voice in your head thinking this is way too much work. Or, the kids should do what I ask them to do without all of this “talking and planning.” Or, maybe even the other kids come inside without an argument, why do I have to do this for him?
But think about it. If you were having a relaxing conversation with a friend (we know you remember those moments) and suddenly another friend demanded it was time to leave, odds are you would not be too happy. It’s a matter of respect to let someone know what to expect. Children are people too.
And once you and the kids get used to making visual plans, doing so will take you about 3 minutes. These are not works of art – you should see Lynn’s! We both just let the kids scribble their drawings because we are artistically challenged. Simply adding a few words allows us to remember what the “drawings” represent. Visual plans can also be saved and used repeatedly so after the initial creation, all you have to do is review them before the transition.
And while some children transition easier than others, if you do not provide that extra support for your spirited child, you’ll lose him. This is when it is essential to remember, he did not get to choose his wiring. He came this way. It is an asset in that he values routines and while temperament is genetic, it is not destiny. Through practice and coaching from you, he can learn to manage transitions like a pro. Soon, thanks to your guidance, he will be able to make his own plans. Over time, when there is an unexpected transition, he’ll even be able to stop, take a deep breath and declare, “That was a surprise!” He will not fall apart, because you have helped him gain the skills he needed to be successful.
Share your success stories with us so we can celebrate with you.