The space between can be rough for our kids.
Whether it’s the space between brushing teeth and putting on socks, or the space between the end of the school day and the start of swimming lessons, even a seemingly small transition point can have a big impact on our kids with ADHD. But with a bit of patience, planning, and practice, your child’s toughest transitions can eventually become second nature. Try these strategies to help your child seamlessly move through difficult “between spaces.”
1. Look for Patterns
Your child’s transition difficulties likely follow a pattern. Try writing down all the transition hot spots during your child’s day and think about what happens immediately before and after the transitions. Is your child moving from a quiet environment to a loud one with lots of people, or is it the opposite? Is the activity your child is transitioning to a boring one? Is the transition too slow, or too fast? You can also try to write down the transitions that come easily to your child to give you some clues. Maybe transitions are easier for your child when the environment is quieter, when they have a full belly, or if they can read a book on drive there.
Examining transitions in this way will help you notice patterns and think of strategies that uniquely fit the situation and are appealing for your child, like putting on their favorite song as they transition through their morning routine.
2. Visual Schedules are Your Child’s Friend
Visual reminders of the many activities and sequences your child follows throughout the day can help them mentally prepare for changes and avoid surprises. Make your child’s visual schedule as detailed as needed. For example, your child may benefit from an interactive visual schedule for their nighttime routine where each step in the routine has an associated picture card. That way, your child can physically move a picture card once the related task is completed.
But schedules don’t always have to contain images and Velcro tabs to help your child. Writing out (rather than solely verbally telling) your child the chores you expect them to complete may help with the transitions between homework, laundry, and doing the dishes. Likewise, another simple visual schedule could be writing out the tasks within an especially aversive homework assignment. Some children may thrive if their visual schedules are balanced with challenging and less challenging tasks, with breaks after especially frustrating tasks, or with a preferred activity at the end of the routine. Either way, your child will be able to see that a break or a fun reward is coming up soon.
3. The Gift of Choice
Despite our best efforts, some things are simply out of our control, like if the school bus arrives late, or if it’s raining and your child can’t wear their favorite sandals. But even in these moments, there are always little glimmers of flexibility and choice to be found. Especially if your child’s transition difficulties are rooted in anxiety, choices, no matter how small, can provide them with a sense of control during stressful situations. If the bus is running late, you can ask your child, “Do you want to wait for the bus inside or outside?” If they can’t wear their favorite sandals, ask, “Do you want to wear tennis shoes or boots?”
Even when things are going according to plan, consider introducing flexibility and choice throughout your child’s daily transitions to break down barriers and resistance. For example, most likely the steps in your child’s bedtime routine are non-negotiable (e.g., putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, combing hair), but maybe you can let your child choose the order in which they’ll complete each step. If chores and homework are on your child’s to-do list, say, “Your choices are to do your flashcards or put away the dishes. Which one do you want to do first?”
4. Practice Frontloading
Frontloading refers to the conversations and activities that occur before an event with the intent to support a successful transition. Frontloading is another way to prepare your child for changes ahead, especially if those changes are big. For example, if your child is transferring schools, frontloading may include touring the new school in person and meeting key staff members before the official start of classes. Even better, your child can record the experience and rewatch videos of their tour. If your child feels anxious and overwhelmed at the thought of making new friends, talk through some coping tools they can independently use, like deep breathing and counting to ten. You can also talk through the best and worst possible outcomes of the upcoming activity and the likelihood of those outcomes occurring. For example, maybe your child forgot their spelling workbook, but a fellow classmate can share theirs – and now your child has made a new friend.
Frontloading can also look like having your child think through what they’ll encounter while making a transition. If your child is going to music lessons, have them visualize everything from getting ready for lessons to the noise levels of the studio and how they might react to the new environment. Maybe there are little strategies your child can think of that would make steps of these transitions easier. If getting ready for music lessons overwhelms your child, perhaps you try setting an alarm to remind your child to put their instrument by the front door, or the child makes a visual checklist and puts it near the door so your child can easily see if they have everything they need for class.
5. Highlight Your Child’s Successes
There are so many transitions, including transitions within a single event (think about how Friday family night might include dinner, dessert, and multiple board games), happening all day and every day. With that in mind, think about all the transitions your child successfully completes each day, even if those switches appear minor. Remember these successes and take the time to praise your child for moving through them. Reminding your child of their success with all kinds of transitions is likely to keep them motivated when dealing with the tough ones.
ADHD and Transitions: Next Steps
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