Improving Transitions with Advance Notice

Improving Transitions with Advance Notice

How do you feel about surprises? Pleased or upset? Thrilled or confused? For example, how do you feel when your boss springs a new assignment on you? “I know it’s last minute, but could you please …” Are you excited at the challenge or dismayed that your own plans for the day must be put aside? Or you arrive home and as you come in the door your partner says, “Oh by the way, we’re going to my cousin’s house for dinner.” Are you happy to be spending time with this cousin, or are you disappointed that your own plans now need to change, or perhaps you’re angry you weren’t told sooner.

Many of us, most of the time, prefer to know what is going to happen next. It helps us prepare, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then we can be at our best for the situation.

Hopefully, this begins to explain why so many children struggle with transitions. Children have fewer experiences to draw on to make sense of transitions. How important is it? Will it happen again? How soon is ‘soon’?  They have fewer coping skills to help them deal with unwelcome transitions and their feelings can be very strong. Transitions are one of the main triggers for arguments and meltdowns.

How can we help our children transition more comfortably?

One important way to help is to give advance notice. Some children do well with a short reminder. “We’ll be leaving for grandma’s in a few minutes. Start to get ready.” Other children need a more gradual countdown.  “We’ll be leaving for grandma’s in 10 minutes. I’ll tell you when it is 5 minutes and 2 minutes.” Some children benefit from a visual count down. This can be a timer that shows the minutes changing or even an old fashioned hour glass with the sand running out. Other children like sounds, e.g., when the music stops, when the bell rings. 

Giving advance notice provides time for your child to get used to the idea and to adjust their thoughts and feelings. It also gives the adult time to watch for signs of difficulty and provide additional support. The next post will talk about previewing as a way to help children through transitions that are difficult for them. 

Blog Disclaimer:  Please be aware that this blog contains general information. It is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as treatment or a recommendation or prescription for a particular child. If you have questions about your child, please talk to your pediatrician or seek other professional services.