When Worry Gets in the Way of Fun

When Worry Gets in the Way of Fun

Some children have so much difficulty transitioning to an activity, that they use all their time and expend all their energy in fussing. Picture a child going to the neighborhood fair or carnival. You expect that both you and your child will have fun. Rides! Cotton Candy! Balloons! Your child makes it 15 feet into the grounds and comes to a complete stop, with tears or a frowning face. Frustrating for both of you.

If your child is easily overwhelmed in these kinds of situations, you’ve already tried many ideas: pep talks, coaxing, incentives, explanations, previewing, and addressing sensory issues that may contribute to problems. You can find lots of useful ideas on the internet, in books, or from friends and family. And do be sure to give some consideration to why these outings are hard for your child, in case this suggests possible strategies for support.

So here is one more idea to help children put things in perspective and deal with transitions. Try this after a difficult outing, once the child has recovered. Draw a line representing the total time at the event. Let’s say you had two hours to visit the carnival. A sketch of a car marks arriving and leaving, anchoring the ends of the line. Then mark off time blocks showing how your child actually used the time. Draw symbols for the loud music in the air or the strong smells, or the crowd, whatever bothered your child.

For example,

    5 minutes standing near the entrance asking to leave

   10 minutes walking to a table in the food area

   30 minutes sitting, crying, hugging, or maybe putting worries into words

   40 minutes starting to calm down and having a snack

   30 minutes in quiet activities at the edge of the fair, e.g., pony ride

    0 minutes in a line for face painting, since the line is now too long to wait

   10 minutes walking to the car

Your child is now upset not to have gone on any rides at all.

Take time to draw the line and the pictures. You don’t have to be an artist, rough sketches and stick figures are fine. Representing the time on a line, with pictures, makes it easy for the child to see and understand. Remember that pictures are often more powerful for young children than words. Even a child as young as 4 or 5 will see that they used most of their time on less preferred activities. 

Before your next outing, prepare a similar time line.  Have your child help decide how much of the line they want to use for each expected behavior or activity. Ask questions: Do you think 10 minutes will be enough to talk about your worries? How much of the line do you want to have for rides, snacks, resting?

Now you have a picture/schedule/timeline for the next outing. You and your child can refer to it as the outing progresses and see how you are doing. You can make adjustments as needed.

This is a nice way for children to develop more mastery of their emotions and to see how their feelings affect their behavior.


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.