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"He has trouble with transitions"

When I rang the doorbell at my son's friend's house, I immediately heard his screeching from the other side of the door.  The 2-hour playdate was culminating in fits of "I don't want to go!" and "Can't I just borrow this toy?", clutching at a light saber.  Apologetically, I said to the friend's mom: "He has trouble with transitions."

Again it happens when this same friend came to our house for a playdate.  The mom rang our doorbell, and my boy's response was identical: "No, I want him to stay forever!" and "I want to go home with him."

I apologized through the squirming and I talked through the screaming: "Thank you for coming over!"  The other mom understood.  And, most other parents do.  My child is not the only one who has "trouble with transitions".  Mostly, it's leaving friends' homes or having to watch a friend leave.  Often times, to ease the transition, there is some compromise bribe: "We have to leave now, but you can have extra lights-on time in bed tonight" or "He has to leave now, but you can have a little treat."  Transitions like leaving school are never very bad, although drop-offs tend to be clingy and sensitive.

Does your child have "trouble with transitions" and what does that mean for you?  What are the ways you deal with the transitions?  I don't feel wonderful about offering the "compromises" but maybe you have other great ideas for me?


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Plenty of warning worked pretty well for my daughter. I always made sure to let her know when a transition was coming up "your friend's dad is coming over to pick him up in 10 minutes. In 10 minutes he will be going home", "it will be time to come inside for dinner in 5 minutes" etc. and then really let it go 15 or 20. Sometimes a couple of heads-up were necessary. For those play dates where she ran and hid when she saw me coming in the door we all sat down and talked about consequences of that continued behavior. We made it very clear that when it's time to go, it's time to go, and that goes for anyone, not just us. Repetition was the key for us, and of course following through on consequences.

OMG...transitions are tough for my 6 year old. One of our biggies is leaving the house, even for super fun outings. It can be really painful. She is big enough now that limits are set on the yelling/flopping on the floor. If it is a fun outing and she can't pull it together - she stays home with one parent and does chores or we don't go at all. For school, I wait for her in the car, periodically letting her know how much time until the tardy bell rings. The more I remove the 'audience' factor and don't get sucked into whatever the drama of the moment is (socks/shoes/coat/backpack fitting just right usually) the better. It can be really hard when we need to be somewhere (like work) at a certain time. I plan some buffer time and we use timers throughout our morning routine to keep things on track. Though we do give her lots of notice for transitions, it doesn't usually change her reaction. Her first reaction to almost anything new (good, bad or otherwise) is , "no." I often have to ask if she means her words and she'll stop and think and change her answer...

I also find that explaining expectations before a playdate and getting the the other parent to participate in setting them is helpful. "The rule at our house is that when your mom comes to pick you up, you get ready to go home. Otherwise, the playdate isn't fun and we can't do them. That would make me sad because I love it when you come to play." I do this when kids come to my house for playdates too. It isn't a panacea, but helps. If my kiddo has been especially difficult leaving, there is usually a loss of a privilege as a consequence.

My daughter (now 7) has always had a terrible time with "transitions." (Actually, I think, separating from people and the comfort zone she's just spent time creating for herself.)

For years, I tried giving 5- or 10-minute warnings. I finally realized that it only increased her anxiety, akin to "you're getting closer to disaster ... now closer ... 30 seconds to detonation ... GO!" Totally did not work, and I wish I'd stopped doing it much earlier.

Now, I explain to the other playdate parent that we're going to make a very quick departure, and why. I make sure I have all of her belongings gathered and march out the door with a polite thank you as quickly as possible. If we're hosting, I work it out in advance that I'll have all of their child's things ready to go since quick goodbyes are much easier on everyone -- they always understand and appreciate it.

My family has lonnnnnng goodbye processes, usually with several rounds of hugs, one more conversation, oh-hey-wait-you-should-bring-home-some-cake, etc. This is finally turned on the light for me. Now we have the cousins say goodbye at the site of their last game and we've worked out an understanding that we might not have our daughter do the Tour of Hugs since it makes separating so horribly miserable for all. We're all close -- they get it.

As soon as I start to become apologetic to the host or guest, the whining starts. I stay as matter of fact as possible, don't negotiate, take her hand, and head out the door. Or I keep her hand in mine as our guest leaves and tell her in a neutral, confident tone exactly what we're doing next (we're going to read another chapter/bake bread/go for a bike ride). This helps get her mind on the next thing.

We have also role-played what a "nice goodbye" looks like over and over again -- slowly, it's sinking in.

Good luck. It's a tough one.

No offense, but these aren't "transitions" they're "play dates ending" and this is largely normal child behavior. Your kid is either tired, over excited or just doesn't want the fun to end or any combination of the above. Kids throw tantrums, kids react in ways we wish they wouldn't, kids are messy, difficult and frequently a big pain. Because they're kids.

Trouble with transitions would be your child not dealing well with a new school, parents separating, etc. And even then, they're allowed to have negative feelings about it. Because they're kids, but also humans, with their own set of emotions and reactions.

In fact, I witness plenty of adults not dealing well with any number of things, as well. Yet no one analyzes it. At most they shrug their shoulders.

My son (now 7) has a hard time moving from one task to another. I don't know why exactly, although he has a thick medical file with lots of experts weighing in about this and many of his other issues. Anyway. Here's what I do that works for transition:

1) The Time Timer. They sells these on Amazon and also Learning Palace. It's a visual timer that helps kids track time passing. You don't say how old your child is, but if your kid doesn't tell time yet or very well, it's very helpful.

2) Counting down minutes left. I used to just to do the "10 minutes til time to go." But one warning wasn't enough. Three seems to work for my kid. First 10, then 5, then 1 minute. And leaving the park, zoo, whatever fun thing seems to go much better.

3) Like Amy said, we make leave-taking short and sweet whenever possible. And we don't force him to do all the hugs, etc, etc. He has to say a polite good-bye and thank you (when appropriate), and then he usually prefers to go wait in the car once he has said that.

4) To address transitions to get ready for school or get ready for bed, I have visual routines posted. For kids who get anxious about leaving or transitioning, this really seems to help. They have a visual routine, and then mom or dad doesn't have to stand there and remind them 3 million times to put shoes on, brush teeth, etc. In general, if anxiety is high or emotions are high, the less verbal input the better for some kids. They are already processing their emotions. They don't need an adult yammering at them.

That's what works for me. Good luck!

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