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How can I help my child with transitions?

In occupational therapy, we often hear parents/caregivers/school staff say that a child struggles with transitions. What does that look like ??

  • refusal to stop an activity to follow someone else's agenda

  • Stopping a fun activity to do another one can be hard

  • Upset with moving on to another activity especially if it's non-preferred activity.

  • Increased irritability

  • Verbal expression "no, I don't want to"

  • Not 'hear you' when you know they can hear you (no hearing concerns)

  • Etc.

Helping children manage transitions in occupational therapy involves understanding their individual needs and providing the necessary support to help them navigate changes effectively. Here are some strategies that can be helpful :

1. Visual schedules: Use visual schedules to help children understand and prepare for transitions. Visual aids, such as pictures or written schedules. You can even use Post it notes too! A schedule can provide a clear roadmap of what will happen next, reducing anxiety and uncertainty about the transition.

2. Transition warnings: Give children advance notice before a transition occurs. This can be done through verbal cues, timers, or visual countdowns to help them mentally prepare for the upcoming change.

3. Consistent routines: Consistency can help reduce anxiety around transitions by making the environment more familiar and reassuring. Routines also help bring more predictability in their life and if they know what's coming, stress can reduce too.

4. Sensory supports: For children who are sensitive to sensory input, provide sensory supports during transitions. This may include the use of sensory tools or engaging in sensory activities (eg. Calming/heavy work activities) to help them regulate their sensory experiences during transitions. You can find a heavy work activities list in the resource section of this website.

5. Social stories: Develop social stories or visual narratives that explain the upcoming transitions in a structured and understandable way. Social stories can help children anticipate the changes and understand what to expect during transitions. There are apps that can help create social stories for you and your family. Exemple: Social Story Creator .

7. Positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement and praise to acknowledge and encourage children's successful navigation no of transitions. Reinforcing their adaptive behaviors during transitions can help build their confidence and resilience. Exemple: ´I noticed you grabbed your stuffy and cleaned up before we left, that was really great!'

8. Individualized support: Understanding that each child has unique needs and preferences. Some children may require more time or specific strategies to transition effectively, so individualized support is essential.

10. Collaboration with caregivers: Work collaboratively with caregivers to understand the child's transition-related challenges and develop consistent strategies across home and school settings. This collaborative approach can provide holistic support to the child.


Thanks for reading,

Jessica Earle, Occupational Therapist

Services offered to families in the Halifax area, rural areas of Nova Scotia, New-Brunswick, and families in Manitoba (virtual therapy services).

Digital resources available under "resources" to support children and families.

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