You feel so stressed when your child won’t listen. You have lots of demands and little time. I know listening is a real problem in most families so I developed a strategy. With this strategy, I taught my child to listen.
Does this sound like your household:
It’s time to get out the door for school. You ask your child to put on his shoes but he’s so engrossed in playing Legos that he ignores you. You wait ten seconds and ask again only to be ignored a second time. You repeat this cycle until you either yell, threaten, or get super angry.
If this sounds like your family, you’re not alone.
My husband and I felt like we were constantly repeating ourselves to our daughter. We were losing our patience and getting nowhere fast. Finally, we studied when the biggest problem times for her. No real surprise — it was transitions. Once we knew that, we taught our child to listen. And you can too!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links; read more here.
WHY TRANSITIONS ARE HARD
Transitions are hard for all children (and many adults). Transitions can be even harder for children like my daughter who are on the autism spectrum. Children with auditory processing challenges, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or other developmental issues can also struggle.
But the reality is transitions are hard for most children.
Children often have a poor sense of time. Even most of my second grade students would need instruction on whether writing their name on a worksheet took five seconds or five minutes.
Transitions often involving having to end a preferred activity to switch to a non-preferred activity. I don’t like having to log out of Facebook to do the laundry, do you?
Transitions require a lot of executive function – the ability to think rationally, plan logically, and manage impulses. Do you ever lose your cool when you need to leave to drive somewhere important and you can’t find your keys?
In short, transitions are very demanding for children’s (and most adults’) self-control.
STEPS TO BETTER TRANSITIONS
The good news is both your child and you can learn to make transitions easier with several simple steps. This strategy is probably best for children age four or older.
Step 1: Pay attention
For one week, commit to pay attention to transitions. Look for the times of day when you’re getting frustrated that your child isn’t listening and following directions.
Here are some common daily transition times:
- going to the bathroom
- getting dressed
- eating meals
- putting on socks and shoes
- cleaning up toys
- turning off a TV show or tablet
- going to the car or bus
- putting away backpack after school
- brushing teeth
- going to bed
Step 2: Write down the tricky transitions
Use my printable Tricky Transitions chart to write down the tricky transitions you want to target. Start with the words “I can” to make it a positive statement for your child. For example, our daughter had a hard time turning off her PBS Kids show to eat breakfast in the morning. Thus, I wrote “I can turn off the TV to eat breakfast.”
Next draw a picture of the activity. I’m not a fantastic artist but with practice for my daughter, my skills have improved. If you don’t want to draw, you could also use google images to print, cut, and paste on the chart, or even better, use Smarty Symbols like I used in this printable.
A lot of children (and many adults) are visual thinkers and the picture stays in their brain as an anchor for longer than words. Plus adults just tend to use way too many words when they give directions anyway. We want to eliminate the temptation for the child to tune us out. So use a picture. It’s important.
Step 3: Explain the chart
Have a conversation with your child that starts like this:
Parent: Hey, I’ve noticed that turning off the TV is hard for you. Have you noticed that?
Avoid judgmental or blaming language like “You never listen.” Explain that you want to try to see if your child can get better at listening to directions.
This is also a good opportunity to teach humility and explain that you’ve made mistakes like losing patience, or yelling, or threatening. Make the goal clear: you want your child to listen and you want to stay calm during these five times so everyone will feel happier.
Last, explain that your child and you will decide whether the child listened within the two minutes and followed the directions.
Step 4: Follow the plan
The printable chart “Help Me Make Transitions” is meant for you to print and post somewhere obvious in your house. The plan has four parts:
- Ask me to make a transition.
Give your child a clear, concise direction at eye-level: “Turn off the TV. It’s time for breakfast. I’m setting the timer.” Show the child the Tricky Transitions chart with the picture.
- Set the timer for 2 minutes.
You can use the timer on your phone, microwave, or use a 2 minute sand timer. (affiliate link)
- Praise me if I make the transition independently.
Use specific praise like, “Wow, you turned off the TV all by yourself. You feel proud and I’m proud, too.”
- Help me make the transition if I need help.
This is definitely the trickiest part. If your child doesn’t make the transition by when the timer is done, get down at eye-level, repeat the direction, and take your child’s hand to lead him or her to complete the transition.
Step 5: Involve the child
I laminate the Tricky Transitions chart with my Scotch PRO Thermal Laminator (affiliate link). Then I place it on a clipboard (affiliate link). Next I use a dry erase marker (affiliate link) and ask my daughter to circle the correct face.
Side note: if your children are anything like mine, it is probably best to get washable, non-toxic dry erase markers. We’ve learned the hard way. You’ll thank me when you’re saving time by not googling laundry stains and calling poison control. You’re welcome.
Back to the faces: Smiley face means she made it independently before the timer went off, okay face means she made the transitions when she heard the time was up, and sad face means an adult had to help her. Your child will circle the correct face. In teaching, we call this self-assessment.
Self-assessment turned out to be an incredible motivator for my daughter. It is research-based that self-assessment increases student achievement and motivation in the classroom but it is surprising and satisfying to see it work at home.
My daughter did not want to circle the sad face at all! After the first day, I would routinely give her the instruction verbally and prompt her with the picture of the activity on the clipboard Tricky Transitions chart. This cue gave my daughter incredible motivation to follow the instructions.
Step 6: Celebrate and reevaluate
After 1 or 2 weeks, it’s a good time to celebrate the progress your child has made. Is he making one or two transitions independently? Are there fewer tantrums when it’s time to transition. Are YOU behaving calmer?
My daughter quickly made her target tricky transitions. We kept up the habit for a full month and then discontinued. We did not offer any other incentives other than the satisfaction of completing the transition.
When we find her not following directions, we revisit this process. It usually only takes a few days to get her back on track.
Toddlers and Transitions
I have to be honest that our toddler son makes transitions pretty easily. Plus his receptive language (ability to listen and comprehend) blows my mind. It’s just typical, but my husband and I are new to this typical thing. So I have not tested this strategy with a toddler.
Nonetheless, for toddlers and preschoolers, I recommend just building a morning routine. Transitions in the morning tend to be really hard for everyone, and using a routine with pictures will help make transitions easier.
For other times of the day, I recommend using visuals of what you need your child to do. This helps children follow directions. I recommend you show your toddler the picture of the next thing you want him to do and then allow about two minutes before you help your child make the transition to that task.
Let me know if making transitions is a challenge for your toddler in the comments and I can better address it in a future post.
Taming those transitions
Transitions are demanding for children, but they won’t always be so tricky.
Print out these printable charts and get to work practicing two-minute transitions. Before you know it, transitions will be smoother in your family.
*These printables were made with Smarty Symbols.