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How to succeed at helping your child transition from one thing to the next, without it taking forever

You talked with your child about shutting down the tablet at 7:30 pm so you could have some quality time before bed.  You gave him several reminders; now it's time to shut it off.  He immediately rages, demanding extra time.  He screams and stomps like a toddler and yells about how mean you are.  So much for quality time... Or it's ten minutes before you have to leave for school.  Your child has been up for an hour but isn’t ready to go despite repeated reminders.  There is always something she must do "really quickly" instead of say... brushing teeth.  This scenario plays out over most days of the week.  Your voice is getting tenser, "What's taking so long?!" but you are not getting any closer to leaving the house.  Everybody is late.

For most children, switching physically or mentally from one activity to another is not a big deal.  They don't spend too much time thinking about it.  But from the parents of easily distressed children, I hear a different story.  "It's the bane of my existence," shared one mom.


In school, children with transition difficulties struggle to return back to class after recess or finish an art project and move on to another activity.  Examples of common challenges at home are waking up on time, without multiple "wake up" visits from the parents, getting ready to leave the house, joining the family for dinner, getting ready for bed, starting on homework, or practicing an instrument.  And of course, the mother of all transitions is the transition from screen time.  Imposed limits, long talks, multiple reminders and threats of taking an electronic device away often don't seem to be working.

Though it may take time, patience, and creativity, parents can successfully tackle transition challenges. Decide which transition you want to address, observe what is going on in your child's environment, and experiment.

Timed countdown warnings work for some children but may be less effective for anxious children.  If your child is triggered by the sound of your voice, many prompts may sound like nagging.  Instead try letting alarms say when it's time.  Posting schedules around the house, with words and pictures of your child’s routine, is another idea.  If you have young kids, create a visual schedule with photos so they can literally see what is coming next and what it looks like.  Take a picture of them successfully accomplishing a task with a happy face so that they remember that they can do it.

For a social child who dislikes doing most things alone, the transitions are much better if he is doing it with someone.  For example, start helping clean his room with him, and then slowly taper off your support.  Eventually, he'll be comfortable to continue doing it on his own.

Problem-solving in the midst of a transition when many things are happening and emotions are high is often fruitless.  You will need proactive conversations and planning.  It's sometimes hard to know why it's difficult for your child to make a switch.  Is it transitioning from one activity to another, like from eating breakfast to getting dressed or from eating breakfast to brushing his teeth?  Is there a problem getting dressed, getting distracted, avoidance of school, leaving things undone, or something else?  Asking the right questions is the key to uncovering what's getting in his way.  Here are just a few ideas on how you can approach your child:

  • What is he thinking about when he is asked to do something else?

  • How does he feel when he is asked to do something else?

  • What are some of the reasons he thinks you have for asking him to do something?

  • What are the different ways he would like to be asked to do something else?  Would it be helpful instead of "ten more minutes" ask him "let's find a stopping place?"

The old “frog in the boiling water” analogy applies to transitions.  Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump right out.  Put the frog in cold water and gradually add heat and he won't jump.  A kindergartener used to explode when she had to get into the car in the morning.  So, the parents let her take the phone into the car while helping her with her shoes and coat.  As they approach the school, her mother would casually comment, "We're almost at school." A couple of blocks away, she was asked to finish her level. Usually, by the time they arrived at school, the girl was finished with the game, handed over the phone to her mother, and got out of the car with no problems.

Sometimes nothing seems to be working.  I see families that run through many "interventions" with no success.  This is frustrating for everybody, so it's important to accommodate your child.  Reducing demands to what he can handle will open up room for him to grow and develop skills.  Some children develop a skill when their brains are ready.  For example, you might consider how to rearrange your morning routine to give your child the assistance he needs right now, instead of going through the frustration of him not being able to meet the expectation of dressing himself independently.

About Olga Caffee

Hi, I'm Olga! I’m a mental health counselor associate and a school psychologist.  I help children and their families to tackle difficult issues that come up from time to time.  I write about topics like parenting, positive discipline, school difficulties, and helping parents to help their children learn the skills to deal with everyday challenges.  If transition issues are making your life miserable, feel free to reach out any time.

Spanking, rewards, consequences, limit setting – what to choose?


A few weeks ago, major media outlets announced that spanking is harmful to child development. The TV news segment included a brief statement about using positive rewards and limit-setting as an alternative.  However, dangling rewards and imposing limits to improve behavior is not easy and often is unsuccessful.  If it worked reliably, many parents would not resort to spanking.

Corporal punishment has established deep roots in our society and has yet to let go of its grip. Most recently a charter school in the south brought paddling back as a form of discipline. Some of the folks who grew up being spanked have a common response, “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Many of us casually laugh at jokes like this one, by Robert Orben, “Never raise your hand to your children – it leaves your midsection unprotected.”

Corporal punishment is a loaded subject and can bring up all kinds of feelings.  Many parents who spank don’t relish imposing this form of discipline; they believe it to be an unpleasant but important part of being a good parent. My goal here is not to examine whether spanking is good or bad – I will let the evidence speak for itself on this point.  I’m more interested in exploring a different way of approaching child discipline. On the one hand, children need structure and expectations and on the other they need warmth and support.  Too much of one is not good. For the parents who are fed up to the eyebrow with their offspring’s misbehavior, an urge to spank may feel like the only option left.  After all, it seems like rewards, consequences, time-outs, pleadings, and warnings didn’t do the trick. So, if the parents should not spank, what are they to do instead? Here are a few ideas.

What are your hot buttons? Do the same situations make you think of spanking? Does it happen in the heat of the moment, when everybody is about to go ballistic? I often ask parents, “Are there specific misbehaviors that especially infuriate you, be it hitting a sibling, throwing a tantrum, being mean to a pet, lying, being disrespectful (swearing, talking back, sassing, laughing in your face), wasting your time, or not following your reasonable request the first time?”

According to Dr. Ross Greene, the author of the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model, behind every challenging behavior is a lagging skill. If your child is misbehaving, they communicate that they have difficulties by not doing something you’re expecting them to do.  Some may say, “Oh, no. My child is perfectly capable of doing that!  They are just being a brat, disrespectful, manipulative, etc.” I would suggest reframing your thinking from, “Why is my child giving me a hard time?” to, “Why is my child having a hard time?”

Recently I’ve seen a post on Facebook reading, “Thinking of your child behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of your child struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.” When emotions run high you may not be thinking that your child is in distress and lagging certain skills but perhaps this reframe can help to start seeing your child’s problem behaviors in a new light.

Ironically, just because a child performed a task once or twice or even several times, does not mean the child has mastered it. This is a common trap in thinking among parents and teachers.   Ask yourself, “What is different this time?  What is going on in my child’s environment? Anything happened at school or sports practice? Why could she do it last time and is having a hard time now?”

If you can’t figure it out, ask your child in a non-judgmental way, “Hey, I remember last time when I asked you to stop playing the video game, you did it quickly.  I wonder why it’s difficult to do it tonight.” Have a conversation with your child and find the reason. While you may not agree with them, at least you will know their concerns.  Empathize with them; share your concerns and see if you can figure out a plan. Your child may not know why it is difficult for them to do something so you may need to guess a few times to see if you are on a right track.  Keep at it. Your child will see that you are interested in solving a problem without instilling a punishment. After all, your relationship with your child is the most important thing.

For some kids with many lagging skills it might even be difficult to have this type of conversation. It’s a common pattern that children who are challenging for their parents to manage are more likely to get spanked. There are many alternatives to deal with a child’s misbehavior.

Here are the links to some approaches that foster non-adversarial, collaborative, skill-building, relationship-enhancing intervention.

Four things your kindergarten teacher wants you to know

Four things your kindergarten teacher wants you to know

The first day of kindergarten is a rite of passage for many children and their families.  It’s filled with new promises, potential friendships, photos, smiles, and, of course, anxiety.  I remember feeling anxious myself walking my own son to his first day of school.  He asked me to follow ten steps behind him as if he were already in middle school.

I’ve caught up with kindergarten teachers to find out the scoop on the first few days of school and what they would like to share with parents.  So, here you have it:

10 Reasons Why your Child Hangs on to the Screen

10 Reasons Why your Child Hangs on to the Screen

Depending on your family, limiting screen time for your child might be an ongoing battle, especially during summer. I know from personal experience as well as talking to friends with kids and parents with children in my practice that the attempts to regulate screen time can cause an explosive situation in many households. There are plenty of articles out there on what screen time does to the brain as well as on how to limit screen time successfully.  Solving this universal problem is never a simple task. If you decide to turn the Wi-Fi off or take the tablet away, you still have to deal with the emotional fallout, tantrum, whining. And even if you’re up for the task, taking away electronics is not always a durable solution.



If you’ve ever ridden a behavioral rollercoaster with your child, you know what I’m talking about.  Yes, the infamous meltdowns.  Many parents struggle with how to handle their kid’s outbursts. According to psychologist Ross Greene, PhD, author of the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model, “Most parents are accustomed to dealing with problems in the heat of the moment.”  With this approach, more often than not the problems are not resolved, emotions run high, and the cognitive capacity of the adult evaporates as well.  There’s got to be a better way.


Walk into any elementary school and you’ll see ubiquitous posters proclaiming “respect” and “safety” for a school community and “zero tolerance” for bullying. Yet these age-old behaviors persist in the face of anti-bullying programs and strongly worded warnings from school administrators. To find out why, I went to the source – the kids themselves.