Using Transitions to Spur Growth


Transitions can be hard. Kids are often tired the first week of school from readjusting to the schedule, environmental stimuli, and behavioral expectations. As a parent, I try to make transitions, whether that means moving from playtime to bath time, moving to a new neighborhood, or returning to school, as predictable as possible. We discuss changes before they happen and try to give the girls a timeline that makes sense to them, rather than one using abstract dates and times. For example, "Grandma needs to go home now, but she'll be back for Halloween. That's 8 weekends from now." One strategy that has been helpful for our family, both kids and parents, is giving the girls one or two responsibilities to involve them in the preparation.

When we fly on a plane, even my 4 year-old is able to pack a few toys and books into her backpack. My older girls are able to pack their clothes, though I double-check the underwear count. This year, I was thrilled when my rising second grader asked for an organizer that would give her a place to pick out her clothes for the school week. She and her older sister asked for it, and they use it. We've only been late to school one day so far, and that was because my oldest could find the earrings, glitter tattoo, OR socks that would best match her outfit. Now they pick out accessories when they pick out outfits, and everyone is a bit less stressed out. Give it a try with your kids, but here are a few tips for getting started.

Tips for Introducing a New Task or Responsibility

  • Timing is everything. Introduce new responsibilities either a few days before a transition or soon after your child is comfortable. Don't whip out a new chore chart when your child returns from the first day of school, but do use the fact that things are changing anyway to encourage your child to learn a new skill and take on a little more responsibility.

  • Manage your expectations. Be realistic about what you are asking your child to do. Make sure the task is safe, age appropriate, and plays to your child's interests and/or strengths.

  • Set your child up for success. Take a few moments to mentally visualize your child performing the new task. Pre-organize any equipment your child will need so that it is easily accessible. Think about the time of day your child feels most alert and/or cooperative. Is that the best time to introduce the task.

  • Show, don't tell. Be prepared to show your child how to carry out the task and to practice it with your child. A verbal description might not be enough.

  • Praise and reward. Make sure to verbally praise your child, offering specific feedback about what your child did well. This could be a great time to introduce an allowance or an opportunity to earn a trip to the park or other preferred activity.

  • Modify as needed. If there is something you don't love about the way your child performed the task, stop to consider whether their way is worse or just different. For example, I allow my daughters to wear whatever colors/patterns/fabrics they want, no matter how badly they clash with other outfit elements. However, there are times when I do need to ask them to change what they've picked out. For example, inspired by her sisters, my 4 year-old is working on picking out her clothes the night before school days. She picks out some sort of top and bottom, but one or both are often inappropriate for the weather. I then praise her for picking out clothes before telling her what the weather is expected to be the following day and helping her modify the outfit. The conversation might go, "Great job choosing clothes for tomorrow. I like that you remembered to do it without me even asking. This is a really cool pair of unicorn shorts, and I like how the shirt has the same colors on it. I forgot to tell you that it's supposed to be cloudy and cool, though. Maybe we should swap out the shorts for a pair of pants. You can wear the unicorn shorts a different day."

  • Shape up. You might need to use a behavioral technique called "shaping" to help your child build up the skills and/or motivation to complete the task. Back to my 4 year-old again...she picks out her clothes, but she can't yet put on her shoes independently. While the end goal is for her to dress herself head to toe, I'm currently praising her efforts to put on socks and to identify which shoe goes on which foot. Maybe you want your child to help sweep, but you still need to hold the dust pan. Praise the sweeping and encourage attempts to hold the dust pan with you. Expert tip: To learn more about shaping behaviors , check out Jerry Webster's article.

  • Praise again. Don't forget to be consistent with the specific praise. If your child masters a new aspect of a task or does it with fewer reminders, make a big deal out of noticing. We all like to feel that our efforts are appreciated, and we work harder for rewards.

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