We are all creatures of habit. Change takes energy and at times, it’s difficult. We can therefore see why some children find it really hard to make transitions between places and activities, whether in their own home or out in public. Asking a child to stop doing one thing and to start another (like leaving a children’s birthday party to go home) is like putting your head in the tiger’s cage!
It is a common trigger for problematical behaviour for children who have developmental or emotional challenges.
Resistance or a full blown meltdown?
Children who have trouble transitioning learn all sorts of ways to get their own way – not necessarily with a complete melt down but quite often with crying, whining, a tantrum or just constant negotiations with the mum or dad. A good outcome of a successful transition is quite often down to how mum or dad deal with it.
Children with different developmental issues may have similar behaviours but experts point out that the reasons behind the behaviours are different for children with various challenges.
Children with ADHD
For kids struggling with ADHD, it all boils down to what the child sees as rewarding. Even though it’s known as attention deficit – its better to think of it as “attention regulating” – children with ADHD prefer to do something that’s rewarding – not something that they are expected to do!
For children who are on the spectrum, the main word here is “routine”. Autistic children have hyper focused interests and tend to do the same things, in the same order, preferably at the same time! Any deviation from the child’s routine can literally send him into a spin!
Sensory Processing Problems
Although sensory processing disorder has not been registered as a “stand alone disorder”, kids can have sensory processing issues, which inadvertently lead to problems with transitions. Some children crave order, which helps them feel calm and more in control. So, children with sensory problems can be prone to emotional meltdowns and outbursts when they become overwhelmed by unexpected changes.
For children with anxiety problems, transition issues might come from fear, fear of the unknown or fear of being in a new situation and not knowing how to cope. Children with OCD have a need to do everything perfectly and if they get interrupted in the middle of a task where they haven’t completed to their own high standard, they can get very upset.
Understanding the triggers that make children upset or, go into meltdowns over transitions is the most important step in managing the behaviour. For example, if you were going to a friend’s house where they have a dog, and your child is a bit scared of the dog, being asked to leave his home to go could very easily trigger a transitional meltdown.
So… the answer is always, prepare your child as much as you can for transitions, be aware of his triggers, and be patient!
If your child needs help how to manage this, please contact me at: