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Resources, Therapy Tips

12 Special Needs Transition Tips, Tricks & Strategies

For children, transitioning from a desired activity to a new activity can be one of the most difficult tasks of the day. In fact, whether you are at home and it is time for dinner or at the store and it is time to leave without a toy your child wants, transitioning can be difficult for everyone involved. Have you ever been in a crowded mall or restaurant and it’s time to go? Your child begins to show signs of throwing a tantrum and your first thought is, “Not here, please!” You may be alone, but you don’t have to face it by yourself. Here are some helpful tips, tricks and strategies to help with difficult transitions. 1.Plan Ahead Before an activity, explain to the child what you will be doing and the steps that are about to occur. Prior to a trip to the grocery store you could tell them, “We are going to the store to buy food. There will be no new toy today. If you follow the rules, you will be rewarded when we get home.” Pair the steps with pictures when possible. If you know of a particular toy or object that is calming for your child, such as a blanket or a teddy bear, be sure to bring it along. 2. Give Choices Many children desire to feel like they are in control of the situation and their environment.  If this is the case, giving children options is an easy way for them to feel they have some control. For example, if it’s time to leave a store and your child wants a new toy, a simple transition strategy is giving them a choice: “You can have a surprise I have for you at home, or you can play with the toys in your room.” Be sure to keep a few small toys or stickers on hand for this purpose. You could also pull out a favorite toy the child has forgotten about. 3. Five Minute Warnings Many children are often unaware of time, such as how long they have been playing. Giving children a countdown is a helpful strategy to ease an upcoming transition. Start as simply as possible with a five minute warning and alert your child again when there is one minute remaining. Visual timers can also help to increase awareness of time. It’s a good idea to practice countdowns while at home, during times of low stress, such as before bed or while getting ready for school. This allows the child to gauge in their own head how long they have to finish a particular activity. If you’re aware of specific situations that trigger difficult transitions, allow plenty of extra time. In any given situation, you may have to repeat the transitioning process several times before the child becomes comfortable. Other tips, tricks and strategies are as follows: 4. Always try to stay positive. When the child is aggravated, try not to complicate the situation by adding your own frustration. Kids are able to pick up on your emotions. 5. Break the transition into small steps. 6. Try to avoid saying no, as it gives the child a negative reaction. 7. Use pictures and create a social story prior to the event. 8. Preview the transition with the child. Laying out a timeline of the activity can be helpful. 9. Have the child help you create a plan for the day or particular task/activity and write it down step by step. Have the child cross off steps as they are completed. 10. Use a favorite toy, game or electronic device to help transition (transition object). 11. If needed, offer small rewards. 12. If you experience several unsuccessful attempts employing these strategies, you may just have to try again another time in order to decrease stress on both you and your child.

WRITTEN ON December 29, 2013 BY:


Chris Purgatori, MOT, OTRL is an occupational therapist at the Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, West Bloomfield, Michigan. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Michigan State University and a B.A. in Health Science from Wayne State University. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from WSU. When he’s not coaching young kids in the OT gym at the KCC, Chris coaches high school varsity boys on the soccer fields at Rochester High School.