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How to Help your Child Smoothly Transition from One Activity to Another

Published September 29th, 2022 by NYTPS Inc

Blog author: Miriam Fruchter, MA, CCC-SLP


As a parent, we’ve all been through one of the following scenarios to some extent:


You have 20 minutes to be by your scheduled doctor’s appointment, but you just can’t get your child out the door. You decide to just pick up your child kicking and screaming, get them safely in the car, and hope and pray they calm down on the way. Meanwhile, you just keep practicing your “deep breathing” to remain calm while thinking, is there any way this can get any easier?


It’s 6:30 pm and you begin the most difficult part of your day- BEDTIME. You start thinking, is this what happens in every home? Why does it need to be so difficult?


Then there’s that family barbecue and your child just begins to tantrum out of nowhere in front of all these family members. Do you just get up and leave and make up an excuse or is there something you can do to help your child get through these difficult transitions?


6 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Get Through the Transitions


  1. Creating a consistent schedule or routine.

    Having a set schedule or routine such as a nightly bedtime routine will help a child more easily understand what is expected of them and anticipate what is coming next. Use of a picture schedule using photos or picture symbols to represent each part of the routine may further help a child follow their routine more easily and independently. Here are a few links to user friendly and ready-made schedules with pictures:

  2. Preparing for the next activity in advance.

    Setting up all of the necessary materials or items prior to transitioning your child into that activity can help your child move more easily from their current activity into the new one. This is true for the home environment, classroom setting and even for the therapy room. The scene when you call your child for dinner is very different if you’re still preparing their plate versus having their plate all ready for them at the table.

  3. Using music, songs, or a set signal.

    You can play or sing a specific song, such as the “clean up song” to help your younger children transition out of a specific play activity. For older children, I would suggest a timer or an alarm on a phone to help them know when that activity is done, and it is time to move to the next activity. In my own home, my second grader has a much easier time completing his screen time with a timer or an alarm than just hearing my voice telling him again and again that his time is finished.

  4. Using a visual schedule.

    As mentioned above, a visual picture schedule can strongly assist your child with understanding their routine and anticipate what is coming next. You may want to check out the websites listed above for some ready-made schedules and pictures. You can also reach out to your child’s ABA teacher, special-ed teacher or speech therapist and ask them for a visual schedule of your routine at home. The more specific the information and activities you provide, the more tailored the visual schedule will be for your child.

  5. Using a specific object for a specific type of transition.

    Sometimes a specific object or toy can be used as a “transition cue” to help your child get to where they are supposed to be. This can take place from the classroom to the therapy room or within the home, especially when moving from a more desirable activity to a less desirable one (for example, brushing teeth before bed). Perhaps it’s a teddy bear, a specific toy car or even a small squeeze (sensory) ball. The key is that this object is only given to your child when it is time to transition to that particular activity. Soon your child will begin to associate the object with the upcoming activity which tends to help smooth the transition.

  6. Turning the transition time into a game.

    You can create or make up a song, dance, or new character that your child can turn into to help them get to their next activity. For example, maybe they can choose their favorite character or superhero and “fly” to the bathroom to wash up before bed.


5 More Tips to Help Your Child Through Their Daily Transitions and Avoid Difficult Behaviors


  1. Acknowledge what might be difficult and praise your child’s effort with positive reinforcement.
  2. You may need to break down the activity for your child into smaller steps to make it more achievable. For example, if putting on their jacket is too difficult, you can show them how to put in each arm and then zip the zipper halfway to make it more manageable. This way the next time you ask your child to put on their jacket, the transition may go smoother if your child knows that he/she is more successful at it.
  3. Assist your child in identifying and expressing their emotions. In this way, they can more easily communicate their feelings about ending a highly desirable activity rather than tantrum when it’s time to be done.
  4. Use the statement, “first... then...” combined with a visual (if needed) to further assist your child with learning to wait patiently for a preferred activity and understanding what is expected of them.
  5. No matter how your child reacts, try to remain calm and supportive for them.


“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”
- Jane D. Hull

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