Transitioning – The Mother of All Battles

Having counselled hundreds of families over the years, here is the top 10 list of problem-causing times in the day. 

  1. Coming off screens (In fact, this one is often related to all the rest)
  2. Waking up and getting out of bed
  3. Getting out the door in the morning
  4. Getting ready for bed
  5. Falling asleep
  6. Coming to the table for dinner
  7. Leaving to go somewhere
  8. Leaving somewhere to come home
  9. Starting homework
  10. Mondays (or the first few days back after a longer holiday)

What do all of these moments have in common? Each one involves a TRANSITION from one area of focus to another. Research shows that boys find it harder to transition between tasks than girls do. Boys are more prone to hyper-focusing which makes disengaging from an activity much harder.

10 Things you can do to prevent battles?

  1. Give warnings: “We’re leaving in 15 minutes…We’re leaving in 10 minutes…We’re leaving in 5 minutes.”
  2. Allow for delays: If you know you have to be out the door by 8:15, make it very clear that you have to be out the door by 8:00!
  3. Mental rehearsal: “This is what’s going to happen today.” Walk your child through events the way you want them to go. Let kids in on the plan. They want to know what is going to happen.
  4. Anticipate transitions: Know what your family’s “problem times” are and be ready to manage them rationally – without letting your emotions take over.
  5. Discuss the problem: Talk about the “problem times” when everyone’s in a good mood, not in the heat of the moment, and have a plan. Keep revisiting and tweaking the plan if it’s not working. It’s a family issue, not just a Mom and Dad issue. Nobody likes fighting.
  6. Physical re-directing / Minimal talking: With younger children, simply take them by the hand and lead them where you need them to go. No need for a narrative, lectures or giving reasons. With older children, lead – don’t follow. Be the first one with your coat on, out the door and in the car. They will follow.
  7. No transitioning with the phone or tablet still playing: “I’ll hold that while you get your coat and shoes on.”
  8. Watch for natural breaks:  TV has half-hour and one-hour intervals – screens are continuous. Find the natural breaks in the game. Some games cannot be paused. Your child means it when he says, “I just have to kill one more guy.” Ask, “How much longer?” and decide if that will work. With YouTube videos, look to see where the slider is at the bottom of the screen. If it’s too long, tell the child to move it forward.
  9. Use a timer: Some kids simply do not have a strong sense of time. What does 15 minutes mean? A digital timer that counts down works wonders. It provides the child with a visual indicator of time passing. 
  10. Unplug WiFi: “If you can’t control yourself, I will have to control you for you.” As a last resort, turn off the WiFi.

Remember empathy on the one hand – you know what it’s like to have to leave something you’re enjoying. But remember firm and fair as well. Life has its demands, and sometimes we need to be firm and fair about what needs to happen – for the good of everyone.