Why Does My Child Struggle with Transitions?
Do you dread it when your child has a substitute teacher? Or when you have to take him to the grocery store during busy time or to a loud place in general?
If these are difficulties that you and your family experience, it could be that your child struggles with sensory/environmental processing or generalizing one experience to the next.
It's not uncommon for children with these tendencies to experience frequent meltdowns that affect family routines. And when these struggles become a daily occurrence and interfere with your family's daily functioning, then it's time to make a change.
1) Trouble with Sensory/Environmental Processing
Oftentimes, a child will struggle with transitions because he is sensory-sensitive. For example, when a child is sensory-sensitive, something as minor as a cooler temperature in his school’s hallway can make the transition between the classroom and the lunchroom difficult and potentially cause a meltdown. Other factors such as a new sound or smell in the hallway or who he sees at the end of the hallway can change the pattern he is used to and cause him to experience anxiety. The human brain learns how to generalize one experience to the next during normal child development, making it easier to interpret new sounds, smells and experiences. This brain-flexibility gives us comfort during our day-to-day life, but some individuals never fully develop that brainwave pattern and need an extra boost learning how to generalize. The brainwave scans below show two brains: the first shows a brain with normal brainwave function, capable of handling transitions, and the second shows a brain with underdeveloped brainwave function, typical of a brain that has difficulty processing transitions and may experience meltdowns.
As you can see, the two scans are very different, making it easy to understand that when a child acts out, it is sometimes more than simple misbehavior and could be out of his control.
What to do:
- If your child has a hard time in loud places, such as the mall, you could put earplugs in (if he’ll let you) or time your day right so you are not there during the busy times.
- Use visual timers, auditory timers and tactile timers: For example, trying saying, “When I throw you the ball, that means it’s time to be done.” Or, “When we do this exercise, it means we’re done.”
- A highly anxious child will often ask, “What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?!” Write activities you are doing that day on a dry erase or chalkboard and have high anxiety children erase the activity when it’s over.
- Let him know about the change as soon as you find out it’s coming—you can’t really change things quick on him.
- Allow him to ease into the change first before asking anything of him.
- Help him understand why the routine is out of place. For example, if there is a fire alarm, explain why.
- If there is a substitute teacher, explain why (perhaps his teacher is sick).
- Try relaxation techniques to ease some of the anxiety.
- * Have him take deep breaths.
- Have him practice the transition verbally, visually and physically. This can be accomplished by showing him videos, drawing pictures with him or telling him stories about what he will be doing.
- Is it the first day of school tomorrow? Drive him to the school on Sunday so he knows what it will look like, how the drive will go, what he’ll see along the way, etc. It’s impossible to have the experience be exactly the same as it will be on Monday, but experiencing the drive ahead-of time will help him prepare for the new experience.
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