If you look at most families and look at when is the peak for family disharmony, it is almost always at transition times across the day.
What are transition times? Transition times are when kids and adults need to move from one activity or area of focus to the next. It is when we need to get the toddlers to stop playing and have a bath. It is when parents come in from work and need to switch into home mode, it is when teenagers need to get off their devices and come to dinner etc.
Transition times are challenging because very often the child or adult may not want to move from one activity to the next one they are being asked to do. For me when I have taken a break to have a cup of tea and read a book in the sunshine, there is definitely a level of resistance to go back inside the house and start cleaning for example.
But we do have to move from one activity to the next so we get to school/work on time and complete other necessary tasks of family life. There are some simple things we can do to minimise the impact transition times have on the family.
One of the reasons why routines work is because it gives flow and advance notice of what is going to happen across the day. This is particularly useful for little kids. Routines do not have to be set in stone or run to a military clock, but they become a familiar pattern in the kids day so they know what to expect.
When I had babies and little ones, we had a very consistent evening routine to help me manage transition times. At this stage, my husband on most night would not get home until around 7.30pm – after the younger kids would have gone off to bed, so it was a time of the day I would manage on my own. Four tired kids and a tired mum could be a recipe for disaster, but the routines I had in place, made this time of the evening actually quite calm.
We would eat early, somewhere between 5.00 – 5.45pm which suited the kids best, then we would mover straight from dinner to bath and brushing teeth. Then it was getting dressed and tidying up. So I could breastfeed the baby in quiet, it would be at this time of the day that the younger kids could watch TV until I had finished, usually about 30 minutes. The kids would know that once I had put the baby to sleep and the show they were watching finished, it would be time for story and bed.
It took a little time to get them used to the routine, but once it was set, it was so helpful in cutting out nagging about what they had to do next or discussing how much TV they could watch! They would move from one activity to the next with minimal fuss. This routine also meant that it was easy to have someone look after the kids as they knew it so well and would just get about and start doing it. From as young as two our fourth child, once dinner time had finished, would take his plate across to the kitchen and start making his way to the bathroom, which if the evening had run smoothly, would already have the bath run.
While our evening routine starts later now and it is a little different, we still have one and it still helps us manage the transition times.
Of course not all transition times fit neatly into a routine. Leaving the park with toddlers and preschoolers is a key transition time all parents would be aware of! No matter how long you stay, they will most likely want to stay longer. Having to leave a place they love and are having such a great time at, is hard and it is hard for them to contain their emotions about how they feel about it.
The more notice we give kids that one activity is about to end and we need to move on, the better they can cope with it. Younger kids tend not to do well with instant requests. When my kids were younger I would give them a five minute warning that we would be leaving the park. I would encourage them to have a last go on all their favourite things, because when I said it was time to go, we would be leaving straight away and there wouldn’t be time for “one more”. I would then let them know there was one more minute and then I would let them know we were going.
Like everything in family life, this wouldn’t always work perfectly. I would estimate that it would work about 90% of the time, the other 10% there would be tears and demands for more swings and upset kids on the walk on the way home. While not a perfect solution, giving kids notice does still help reduce the issues that arise from transition times.
As the kids have grown older, I have learnt that they need even more notice. Firstly as they get older, they have more plans of their own, so if you are wanting them to do something or would like them to come along with the family, they need to be able to know this in advance. All teenagers are different, but most teenagers at some point go through a phase when they would rather not hang out with the family. If I plan for us to head out for a cheap and cheerful meal somewhere, I make sure I tell them as soon as possible and then give them notice about how soon we are leaving, for example, I will let them know it is about 30 minutes until we go and then give them another call at 10 minutes. Now it may seem like a weird thing to do given that they are most likely on a device which has the time on it, but because it is not an activity they have planned, it isn’t necessarily on the fore front of their mind. I also use the tip I was given a while ago which was to add 10 minutes to anything you want to do with a teenager, so I always make sure there is some extra time built in!
Kids are great at regulating their own pace if left to themselves. Sometimes the pressures of external commitments require kids to have many transition times across the day. Some of these are of course essential – they need to go to school, they may have football training to go to etc. But as the adults we can also ensure that they have some space in their day so they are not frantically transitioning from one activity to the next.
There were many days when the kids were little and with the best of intentions I would have us out with a catch up with friends, do some grocery shopping, take the kids to the park, then have to put them all in the car to do the after school activity run. When you have a day so full of transition times – home to friends’house, leaving friends’ house, getting in the car, going home, going in the car again, going to the shops etc there really are just so many points that can become issues.
I learnt that if I could create more space in their day at other times, then when we had to essential things like the after school activity run, I was less likely to have issues. I learnt to plan my days differently where I could. I would either go shopping at night or send my husband at night. I would book catch ups on days when we didn’t have lots of after school activities.
Space is also important for parents too. I find that if I go straight from working at the computer on work stuff, to picking the kids up from school (which is a 5 minute drive) I haven’t had space to mentally switch from work mode to mum mode. My attention would often be on the last thing I worked on and when I asked the kids about how school was, I wasn’t really listening to their answer as my mind was still on work. Now, I aim to stop work at least 15 minutes before I pick them up, even better if I walk and pick them up as the physical activity helps me switch off from work even quicker and I find I enjoy those moments so much more and I am more present with the kids.
How do you manage transition times at your place?
If you have tried to establish routines for yourself and your kids but haven’t been able to get it working, then you should check out my e-course Planned & Present. It is a 7 week online course designed for mums to help them streamline the known repetitive tasks of family life, so you can then better manage the unpredictable but inevitable parts of family life. There are lessons on routines, processes and plans with templates for you to use and routines to tweak and follow, so you don’t have to start from scratch.