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Parents, Families and Child Care

Easing Transitions for Children


When I walked into my daughter’s preschool class I overheard the teacher saying in a very calm voice, “Okay, boys and girls, you have five minutes until it is time to clean-up.” Considering that children have no sense of time, I wondered why she didn’t just say, “Time to clean-up!” But five minutes later when my daughter’s teacher turned off the lights, the room came to a halt. She then spoke in a whisper, “Boys and girls, it is time to put the toys away so we can get ready for lunch.” The children immediately started to chant the class clean-up song and all of the children pitched in willingly to pick up the toys.

How offering a "respectful warning" to children a few minutes before they're going to begin a new activity can avoid meltdowns!

I was amazed. Without having to be reminded several times and without dialogue about her role in cleaning up items that she played with, my daughter did just as she was asked. Whenever I asked my daughter to clean-up at home it almost always ended in a verbal disagreement on why she had to clean-up or a debate about why she cannot play for just a little bit longer.

So I decided to mimic the teacher’s “respectful warning” in my own home. One day when it was almost time for her bath, I said to my daughter, “Shari, you have five more minutes to play with your toys and then you will have to clean-up so you can take a bath.”

“Okay, mommy,” she replied.

Five minutes later I said in a low tone of voice, “Shari, it is time to clean-up now.” My daughter, who would typically argue about cleaning or beg for more time to play, immediately started picking up her own toys. I was even more shocked than I had been in her classroom!

Young children have a difficult time transitioning from one thing to the next. I had no idea that “respectful warnings” were the solution. When parents expect children to end any activity abruptly they tend to shut down. This experience allowed me to understand that young children need time to mentally prepare themselves to transition from one thing to the next.

I had often wondered why my daughter had such a difficult time cleaning up, but once I witnessed the respectful act from her teacher I realized that cleaning up was never the issue. The issue was me failing to respect my daughter’s play and to offer a timely warning to help my daughter mentally prepare herself to transition from one adult command to the next. And it works for more than just clean-up. I make it a point to always offer my daughter a “respectful warning” when we’re transitioning from one activity to the next. It’s easier this way for both of us!

6 thoughts on “Easing Transitions for Children

  1. I have found this to be so true for my older son!

    • Hello,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. I agree with you, I give transition warnings with my nine year old son and it works miracles, especially when he is playing outside with his friends.

  2. This could be me writing! The first day of preschool for my 3 year old, I heard the teacher do a 5, 3, then 1 minute warning, and had no problem switching the kids to a different activity. I thought it was brilliant, and started implementing it at home… made life so much easier. It’s been a year, and we’ve had no problems…unless you don’t warn him! Then it’s a fight! But if you then give him a 1 minute warning (even if we only count to 10! ) the transition is perfect!

    • Good Morning,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. If preschool teachers could teach parenting classes or write columns in parenting magazines for parents to read before having children some of our most challenging parenting moments would no longer me struggles. Preschool teachers are the greatest resource when it comes to helping parents at home with their children.

  3. I work in long day care. In the 3-5 room I play “Tidy up time” music. Its a pleasant little song that is put on which indicates to the children that it is time to pack things away as we are moving on to another experience, meal time, or group/mat time.

    The children know this music means that we all work together to help each other clean and tidy our room. This works very well, and the older children are great role models for the younger children.

    This music helps educators to organise transition times smoothly.

    The children will be told that it will be pack up time in a few minutes, as children need to be given time to finish what they are doing.

    The music plays until the room is tidy. Educators and children work together.

    If the room is looking very messy and out of control ish 🙂 the music will just be put on.

    Its a great tool :)))))

  4. Good Morning,

    Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. Children respond well to music. I feel that teachers are brillant simply because they discover creative ways to get young children to conform to rules without them even knowing it. Telling them to clean up is one thing but playing a specific song to give them an auditory que that it is time for something different is on of the best ways to get them to recognize that it is time to move from one activity to the next.