Tested creative methods to make smooth transitions for families
Changes, even routine changes, can be notoriously difficult for children, especially those inclined towards anxiety or rigidity. Here are some tested creative methods that may help your family make transitions easier.
- Just the facts, Ma’am. For those of you not over 50, know that’s a quote from the TV cop show Dragnet. Try phrasing the instructions as “It’s time to…”, or “It’s time for…” rather than “You have to…” Matter of fact statements can help remove blame, guilt or power struggle from the transition. It simply is what it is. This can be combined with tip 8 and possibly tip 7 as well.
- Picture It. Visualize in your own mind the actions that need to happen to make the transition successful (such as turning off a phone or tablet). Parents can create their own visual schedule by taking photos of these tasks with your phone or by cut and paste method from an internet image search. Place all these photos/images into a document as your new, personalized visual schedule. If drawing is an enjoyable pastime for you or your child, then you or your child could also draw the images needed to make visual supports. There are many free and paid computer and mobile applications to help parents find images and create schedules.
- Count Down. Prepare for the transition by counting down to it including pointing to the time (…in 30 minutes. …in 15 minutes). You can also make visuals for this. Yes, there are computer and mobile applications for this too. For some children this can actually produce more stress, so use judiciously.
- Make it a Game. Recently I worked with a child in a hospital who enjoys monster trucks. When it came time to leave his drama therapy session and move to physical therapy he grasped the toy trucks he was playing with tightly in his hands rather than put them away. I offered him a very straightforward game to play “let’s pretend your (wheel)chair is the monster truck.” We used a bit of packaging from a new toy he had received to press lightly on the wheels so that they made more of a revving-to-roaring engine noise. He was delighted and the transition was not only easier but actually fun. Invented games can become transition rituals of their own. Put the idea into action using objects, body postures, and gestures combined with sounds, words, and phrases (“It’s time to fly”, he said, while doing a superman pose).
- Make it a Song. My father was a choir director and sang in a barbershop quartet so putting things into made-up songs comes pretty naturally for me. However, you don’t need to have any kind of personal background in music to set something to song. Think of a song that has been stuck in your head and change the words to whatever transition needs to be made. Music Therapists refer to these as “Piggy-back Songs”. Alternatively, you can set the stated instruction to a repeated rhythm that you snap, tap, or clap as you sing or speak it to a beat.
- Shift the Focus Forward. “It’s time to go to…” Sometimes when you emphasize the activity that is coming up, instead of just focusing on the activity that is ending, you can experience more success. Combine this with tip 8.
- “Yes, and…” Acknowledge, briefly, in a word or two, that you see where the child is at before stating or restating the transition instruction. (“Yes I hear you and …”, or “Yes, I can see you’re tired and…”, or “Yes, I understand, and..”.) Obviously the word “Yes” isn’t the answer to a question like “Can I stay 15 more minutes?”. However, meeting the child where they are emotionally as you move into the transition can reduce anxiety and resistance. “I hear you, and…”, “I see you, and.., “I know, and…” are all alternate ways of saying “Yes, and…”
- Repeat. Repeat. This is Tip #1 replayed in a loop. Avoid the trap of getting into endless explanations about why the transition is necessary, or bringing up, “If you don’t do this…”, or “You are making me feel…” or that “People are watching…”, and just stick with repeating the transition as a statement of fact – clear, objective, and unavoidable.
It is likely that you have already tried one of these. Hopefully this article provides some validation, support and encouragement for your efforts. Often shared wisdom works in the way the late, great George Carlin described comedy, “My job is not to come up with funny things to make you laugh. My job is to point out things you already knew were funny, you just forgot to laugh at them”. It all boils down to these essential, helpful ingredients: simplicity, repetition, and an abiding a sense of acceptance, play, and good humor.
Keith Whipple is a Registered Drama Therapist at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts.