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Transitions: 4 Tips to Prevent Meltdowns

A child’s life is full of transitions.  They go from their bed to the car to school to the playground, etc… For some children, this can be extremely difficult and transitions can be when teachers and caregivers tend to see a lot of negative behaviour.

Why is this? Most of the time, it’s due to the fact that they don’t want to end a preferred activity and move on to something else.  Honestly, my transition out of my preferred activity of staying in bed in the morning does not go smoothly either.  There are very few things that are more enticing than pushing the snooze button and rolling over (my negative behaviour). In a classroom, this can sometimes be exacerbated by a language difficulty.  If the teacher said “Put away your toys, it’s time for recess” and the little guy doesn’t process all of that sentence well, he may not have noticed that he’s going out for recess.  All he knows is that he doesn’t want to clean up his toys.

It’s best to be as proactive as possible in teaching children how to tolerate transitions.  Here are a few antecedent strategies:

  1. Countdown timer.

You can use any timer (eg: time timer, sand timer) to visually display to our kids how much time is left of a preferred activity.  This strategy works best when paired with some sort of countdown warning (eg: “2 more minutes” or counting backwards from 10).  Check out this free visual timer.

Tip: When using this strategy, you MUST follow through when the time is done.  If the child doesn’t clean up the toys, you may have to help him so that it gets done.

  1. Visual Schedule

This is especially helpful for students where control might be playing a part in the negative behaviour.  Provide a visual schedule (this can be in pictures or in text format) of the activities that will happen that day.  You can even give him some choices over which activities happen.  This way, Johnny can see that playtime comes again after circle time and even though he cleans up his toys now, he can get them back later.  The visual schedule also provides a nice bonus of allowing them to take off the picture or crossing off the activity which is sometimes reinforcement enough for tolerating the transition.  For example: “Put away your math book and then you can cross Math off your list”

  1. Practice, practice, practice

This is key.  Anticipate what the transition will be in advance and then do lots of practice and role play.  For example, before the first day of school, many of our kiddos went to visit the school and their classroom, practiced hanging up their bag and coat, and finding their seat!

Tip: We recommend practicing any routine that the child is struggling with during a stress-free time.  So if you want to improve the morning routine, choose the time of day that the child is calmest and “pretend” to wake up in the morning and get ready for school.

  1. Teach the child to “Tolerate Transitions”… and reinforce!

When we’re teaching our clients at home, we often include transitions in the program as a way of preparing them for their next environment, which will likely involve transitions.   During session, we might have them transition from the table for one program to the floor for a play program.  We would then reinforce the appropriate behaviours they display during the transition.  Eg: “Wow! You came so nicely and quietly to the floor! You get to choose the first game”

With some kids, we’ve introduced a program that systematically introduces a “surprise” to their day.  We start out by having them tolerate transitioning from a low preferred activity to a “surprise activity” which is highly preferred.  We would provide lots of reinforcement for the transition, even at this stage.  As the child gets better, we start having him leave more preferred activities and going to a “surprise activity” which might not be as exciting.  Until the point where they’re able to leave a highly preferred activity and engage in a “surprise activity” which is low preferred.

These are some of the strategies we used in getting our little ones ready to go back to school.  Here is some of the feedback after the first day:

“It went really well.  I did a social story for him over the weekend and he liked it! We also did a test drive to school on Monday which I think helped him feel more prepared.”

We’d love to hear how you’re using these strategies to prevent transition meltdowns!

2 thoughts on “Transitions: 4 Tips to Prevent Meltdowns”

  1. Pingback: 6 Tips for Traveling With A Child With Autism - How to ABA

  2. Pingback: How to Use a Countdown for Transitions - How to ABA

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