For many children, routines are important because they provide reassurance and a sense of security. For children experiencing change, challenging situations or unpredictability in their lives, it is helpful to have a stable routine. Preparing children for transitions and having consistent routines will help them understand expectations and cope with change. Children experience daily transitions which usually involve routines such as sleep and mealtimes or change in environment/location such as indoor to outdoor.
Children may have difficulty making transitions for many reasons. Here are some examples:
- Unexpected change. It is raining, therefore Carly cannot visit the playground as planned.
- Current activity is enjoyable. Mila loves playing on the computer. She does not want to stop to eat.
- Next activity is unenjoyable. Gareth does not like bedtime, so he resists getting ready for bed.
- Next activity is enjoyable. Carmina is excited to go to the park. She leaves the table before lunch is finished.
Strategies to help with transitions
- Provide reminders that the transition is coming
Telling your child that a transition is coming will help them to get ready. For example, when you would like your child to get ready for lunch you can say, “It’s almost time for lunch”. You can make this concrete by setting a timer or counting down from ten after you give the warning. When the buzzer goes off, or you reach zero, begin the transition. When first introducing this strategy, you may have to help your child follow through, or guide them to the next activity or task.
- Offer Fidget Toys
If your child is finished with an activity but needs to wait for another one to begin, providing them with a fidget toy (e.g., a sensory toy such as a squishy ball) can help keep them busy. Depending on the situation, you may need to make sure that the fidget toy does not make noise and that your child is able to keep it in their hands or pocket.
- Offer Transition Objects
Use an object to signal that a new activity is about to begin. For example, if your child is playing and it is almost time for bath, you can prepare them by giving them a bath toy. Allow them to play for a few minutes and then encourage him to bring the toy with him to the bathroom.
- Sing a Song or Play Music
Songs are a fun and engaging way to signal that the current activity is about to end and a new one will begin. Songs help your child learn routines and improve language and memory skills. You can use the same tune and change the words for different activities. This will make it easier for your child to remember the song and join in. Song lyrics developed for transitions and routines can also include the steps of the transition or routine to support the child’s success.
- Change the Lighting
When it is time to stop playing and get ready for the next activity, you can dim the lights to get your child’s attention. The change in lighting will help shift their attention from the activity they are engaged in. Once you have their attention, offer your warning that the beginning of the transition will be happening (e.g., dim lights, child looks your way, say “In five minutes we are going to tidy for lunch”).
- Provide a Visual Schedule
Regular use of objects, photos, or pictures will show your child the order of activities that are planned. This process can help children anticipate and understand what is going to happen and when. Create your own visual schedules using visuals such as photographs or pictures from magazines. When you first start using a visual schedule, include two or three transitions. Gradually add more pictures, up to a maximum of six or seven in one schedule.
- Visual Countdown
This strategy is helpful if you want your child to focus on one activity until it is time for the next. It can show them that time is passing and reward them for remaining focused. Every few minutes you can remove a panel. When the rocket appears, it is time to “blast off” to the next activity.
Make your own visual countdown by taking a large piece of cardboard and writing the numbers one to three on it. Instead of a rocket ship, you can draw, or glue a picture of your child’s favourite cartoon character. Cover each number and the rocket ship/cartoon character with a coloured piece of paper. Attach the pieces to the cardboard with tape or Velcro.
Preparing for transitions helps your child understand changes to routines and provides them with some predictability of what activity is coming next. All children are unique and have different ways of learning.
Careful planning and collaboration can help with the routine between the home and program. Be consistent so that your child knows what to expect. Try to keep to the routine as much as possible and remember to praise your child for their efforts.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Building Structure. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/building.html.
Markham, L. (2020). Why Kids Need Routines. Retrieved from https://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/family-life/structure-routines.
Petit Early Learning Journey. (2017). 10 Reasons a Daily Routine is Important for Your Child (and How to Set One). Retrieved from https://www.petitjourney.com.au/10-reasons-a-daily-routine-is-important-for-your-child-and-how-to-set-one/.
Raising Children. (2017). Family Routines: How and Why They Work. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/grown-ups/family-life/routines-rituals-relationships/family-routines#routines-the-basics-nav-title.