by Kelly Villaruel
Do you ever find it especially challenging to get your children to move from one activity to the next? Is it sometimes difficult to get them to put on their shoes and get out the door, whether they are heading to school or going out to play? Maybe they are relaxed and playing fine, having a beautiful time but getting them to shift gears to get ready for dinner becomes a time of chaos and power struggles? You are not alone. Transition times can literally be the stuff of nightmares. In fact, transitions can have the power to engage a child’s counter-will and you can end up with something that looks like defiance and it can get real big real quick. On the flip side, have you experienced a smooth transition where your children happily and easily move from one thing to the next? It is possible to have most of your daily transitions flow effortlessly with minimal “work” and the harmony that can be created in the home is nothing short of miraculous.
Well tended transitions are the key to the ease and flow we all hope for in the home.
If you think about how many transitions children have each day, it’s no wonder that things can go south quickly. Before breakfast children can have up to 10 transitions! Waking up, rolling out of bed, saying good morning to family, going to the bathroom, picking out clothes, taking off pajamas, putting on clothes, sitting on the couch, getting off the couch, going to the table…..all before breakfast. Each time your child does something different, it is a transition and each transition has the potential to be messy. When children are doing something from a task to being deep in play, their focus is close in and they can get to that place of entrainment very quickly where they are working on mastery of a skill. It can be so hard to be pulled out of that place, especially if it is abrupt in any way, but the reality is that sometimes they just need to move on to the next thing. So, what can we do to help create a smooth transition?
We can sing! Singing speaks the language of childhood which is very dreamy and songs have the power to “carry” children along. Singing has a way of engaging our children’s will to cooperate which means that the counter-will can disengage. The idea here is that, through a transition song, we “gather” our children in a way that cultivates a deeper connection and continues to build our relationships with them.
Any directions you have to give your children can be put into a song, tunes made up as you go. Imagine it is time to go outside but your children are busy playing in their rooms. Most children need a warning that a transition is coming. It can be as simple as “after you put on 4 more legos, we will go outside” or “finish that part you are working on because we will be going outside”. In the woods we may sing “listen for the coyote howl” which lets them know that it is time to finish what they are doing because they know the coyote howl means we will be gathering. Sometimes we sing “off we go, through the woods.” After children have a transition warning, move in closer to them and start singing, “(their name) put your jacket on, it’s time to go outside”. Sing it several times, catch their eye, give a nod or a wink and they often give a little smile and can move on to the next thing. At that moment you are “gathering” your child.
It is important to keep in mind that this is an in breath moment that does require us to be present. When we are not present, the children know and they engage or disengage accordingly. So before we sing, take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you in a hurry, irritated, angry? Can you set that aside for a bit (literally make an appointment to come back to that later) and ground yourself, become present, then sing? We can even use lines from our songs that we sent out as a transition song or verse. When we are washing hands for dinner or any other time during the day we can say “come in and wash your grubby hands, it’s nearly time for tea” from the dandelion clock rhyme. It is fun and playful and if they have heard it many times before they are more likely to just follow along. It is a simple idea that is not always easy to do. The reality is that sometimes we are tired and just want and need children to do what needs to be done. We may not be in a creative place to sing. That is ok. What works one day may not work as well the next day but we just keep trying. It might take a lot of practice but, thankfully, we have at least a hundred chances every day to try!