When a child struggles to handle change, it is likely that transitions are quite challenging for him or her. Let’s start by understanding transitions: a transition is any situation that demands change, like a changing from one place to another, a changing from one activity to another, or a change in the people that give support, like a teacher, tutor, coach, or caregiver. Transitions can be minor, as would be changing activities within a classroom, or major like going from preschool to elementary.
Transitions require that the child stops doing an activity, move from one place to another (sometimes), and begin something different.
In a regular day children have more than 15 transitions; each one of them demands that the child stops doing a specific activity and moves to another, and many times transitions also require change in location, like a different room, to begin something different. Many times these transitions involve considerable physical activity and high noise levels, as happens in school when lots of children are moving from one room to another.
When we have a child having trouble coping with change, a child that needs structure, that needs a routine to feel comfortable or safe, transitions become really stressful.
Transitions require flexibility in a child, they are more than just coping with change, since they involve dealing with many changes at the same time: The child should be able to read the clues that indicate that the activity in which she is involved is going to end soon, then she should see if she can finish on time or prepare to do it in another occasion. the child must stop doing what she is doing in that moment, think of what she will be doing next, changing her mindset, changing location (most times), activity and usually going with a different teacher or adult in charge…
Let’s visit a girl in school, she is in her first class of the day which is math, she is already involved in learning division, focused on placing the numbers on the right place, trying to do it in order, remembering the multiplication tables in order to do the computations right, writing the remainder on the right place, etc… She is so focused on learning divisions that she doesn’t realize that the time of math class is almost over, the other children are already handing in their division papers, some are just hurrying up to finish on time, others are putting away their stuff to get ready for the next class. Our girl has not realized math will be over soon, so when the bell rings indicating it’s time for Language Arts class, she is unprepared for the transition, she realizes the rest of her classmates are ready to move on to the next class, she just realized she had to hand in her work, so she tries to hurry up, but the teacher is also ready to go, she starts getting upset that she might not be able to hand her paper in, she starts to realize that she has to do many things to be on time to Language Arts class…Putting her Math things away, getting her language arts textbook and notebook, running to the right room, etc… She fears she will not be able to do all those things on time… She starts to panic, she starts thinking that maybe it is art class instead of language arts next, she gets anxious, she mixes up her schedule in her mind… She gets upset and she freezes.
This girl was not able to read the clues around her telling her Math was almost over, therefore she didn’t get the time to prepare for the transition. As she thought about all she needed to do to be on time for her next class, she panicked and got all mixed up in her mind, her fear of not having things ready, her fear of failure, her past experiences, etc., made her anxious and upset, then she didn’t know what to do, her thinking mind was not available to her in such a state.