Transitions – How to Create Better Transition Habits to Reduce Tantrums

Transitions are a tricky thing! Have you ever had a child so engaged in an activity and then all of a sudden it is time to move on and BAM… An explosion erupts because the activity has to stop? Yeah, I think we have all been there. If you haven’t, then either consider yourself lucky or you are not being honest with yourself, LOL!

I realized that I was having some transitional issues with my youngest when she was swinging at the park. It was time to go and I had to PEEL her off the swing. Quinn was kicking and screaming as we were leaving and I thought to myself, “Yep, it is time to implement some transition strategies to reduce this hot messness at the park!”

Once again, enter “Behavior Analyst-Mama” mode!

Here are some of the strategies that I implemented to reduce some of the tantrums during transition times.

Provide Timed Transitional Cues

This is a great habit to get in to. When we are about five minutes from needing to leave the engaged activity, I tell my girls that we have “5 more minute.” Every couple minutes after, I continue to provide them prompts that we are leaving soon.

I once had someone ask why I do this because my toddler has no reference of time. Although this is very true, what I am doing is providing her several prompts that we are getting ready to leave. If I did not give her 2-3 transitional cues before we were about to leave, it would feel like I was ripping a rug right out from under her.

By the time it is time to leave, I count down from 5 and then I say, “Time to leave!” and then I ALWAYS follow through on this.

Provide Choices

Let me set the stage. You have an older sibling wanting a toy that your toddler is playing with. It is time to share and you need to make a transition to another activity. You need to move on but you really don’t care what it is. You just know it needs to be something else….

What do you do?

In this situation, it is very appropriate to provide choices to your little cutie.

-Would you rather have the bead board or baby doll?

-Would you rather play with a puzzle next or play-doh?

If it really doesn’t matter what the next activity is but you know you need to move on, give your little one the choice to help with that transition! This may be the motivation for your child to get to the next location or activity.

Another tip- Keep the options between two objects. At least in the beginning or this can become a little overwhelming :).

Before leaving a current activity, tell child the “fun” activity they are heading to

Sometimes, challenges come when you need to get from one location to the next. It may be helpful to be intentional and set up a short “fun” activity to help with transitions and note the fun activity prior to the relocation.

For example, if you are needing to get from the garage to the living room (because you know, the toddler all of a sudden became fixated on paint brushes outside), you could state, “First come inside from the garage, then you can get a snack!” Um, what toddler doesn’t like a snack? It is also identifying the contingency that if they come inside successfully, they are earning reinforcement!

Reinforce Child for Appropriate Transitions!

Which leads me to my next point. Reinforce appropriate transitions! If you are seeing that your child is appropriately engaging in transitions, have a favorite snack or sticker on hand and make sure you praise the awesomeness that is happening. Transitions are hard and we want our little ones to know we are proud of them!

Provide Child Closure at Current Activity

Sometimes, validating their feelings is helpful in providing closure. One thing that I have found to be beneficial for my babes is to let them say goodbye to a favorite activity before moving on. We will literally be in the toy aisle at Target and we will be saying, “Goodbye toys! See you next time!” while I am waving to the plastic kingdom in front of me.

Providing this closure allows the little ones to feel they are ending the activity on their own terms opposed to the parents having the control.

Hey, whatever works, right?

Provide Visual Schedule

Lastly, if transitions are a really tricky thing for your child, create a visual schedule. This will lay out their day in pictures. As they complete an activity, you can let them check off that part of their day. This will also allow your child to see what is coming up.

This is particularly useful if you have a time of day that is more challenging. Maybe morning transitions are difficult? Bedtime routines are hard? Whatever the transition that provides the most challenges for your family, a visual schedule could help your child manage their day.


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