Transition Strategies For Children

Avoid Child Behavior Problems

Timer to be used for transition strategies

Learn the best transition strategies to help change activities without temper tantrums or aggressive behavior in children. Transition problems can be common for children with neurological disorders, such as characteristics for autism or signs of ADHD.

Transitions for children in the terrible two stages or troublesome three stages can also be difficult. The reason for this seems to be the result of having difficulties stopping a favorable activity or not entirely understanding what the new activity will be.

For children with a sensory disorder, it may be due to the sensory stimuli associated with the new event or not wanting to stop the sensory integration they are receiving from the current activity. This is especially common for children that are sensory seeking.

My son is a sensory seeker and had lots of problems with transitions until I started using the techniques listed below, so I can personally attest that they do work!

Strategies for your Child

Develop a regular routine: This can be one of the most important transition strategies to use. When the same activities occur in the same order each day it helps a child know what to expect.

Use a picture schedule: This technique is especially helpful for showing upcoming events to children and transitions that tend to occur more infrequently, such as doctor’s appointments.

You can do this by using PECS and arranging them in order of your child's day.


picture schedule, transition strategies

Give a 10-15 minute warning: In addition to the above strategies, give notice in advance that you are going to need to switch activities or leave the place you are at. Then let him/her know exactly what you will be doing next and what to expect.

If possible, try setting an egg timer: Let your child know when it goes off, he or she needs to put away what he or she is doing or that you will be leaving.

This transition strategy also works best if you return and give another reminder again a few minutes before you need to switch gears. For example, “You have about 15 minutes to finish with your food so we can go to the store”, then return again in 5 minutes.

I really like to use the Audible 12 inch timer. It helps children to actually see time passing, understand more about the concept of time and allows them to immediately see how close they are to changing activities. 

We use it with our son and I have to say it is absolutely wonderful. It eliminates so many struggles during a transition and is worth every penny. I also think it would be extremely beneficial to use in a classroom. So, if your child has a really difficult time in school you may consider getting one to give your child's teacher to use or highly recommending it.

More Transition Strategies...

Ensure your child he/she can return to this previous activity and finish it when you return or let them know when you will be able to go to the place you are at again.


Bring a favorable item to direct your child’s attention to, that can be consumed in the car: Healthy preferred snacks are a great way to motivate getting in the car or a preferred toy/item that may only be played with in the car is another good way to help with a traveling transition.

Make sure to let him know of the item as soon as you tell him it is time to leave. Do not wait until he/she is engaging in undesirable behavior or you will reinforce and increase the future frequency of that behavior.

Get your child to focus on something close to the exit or the car: This is probably one of my favorite transition strategies because I love the way it helps make it much easier to get them out the door and put them in the car should, challenging behavior develop. For example, if there is a fish tank near the door to leave say, "Ooh look at the fish tank, let's go look at the fish!"

Then get them to focus on something outside, such as "Wow, I think I saw a really cool bug by the car on the way in, let's go see if it's still there." Of course look for bugs all the way to the car.

If you can't think of anything, I always say, "Did you see that really cool thing outside?" or "I think they have a suprise inside, let's go see!" After getting outside or inside, I look for anything that could be considered even slightly cool and then say, "Wow, see that really cool bird flying up there!" For some reason this works everytime with my son, but may not work for an individual without a lot of verbal skills.

Creativity is your best defense when using different strategies. Once again my son has given me lots of practice in using these techniques and learning new ones everyday. Personalize your strategy based on your child's preferences and you will see results.



The most important thing I have learned is that the amount of time it takes to use transition strategies is comparably less than the time and effort it takes to forcefully have him/her switch activities. I know it would be nice to simply say "Let's go" or "It's time for bed," but with children this world doesn't always exist. So, consciously practice the transition strategies above and over time they will come more naturally and produce great benefits.

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