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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

How to Support Children During Transitions

When you speak with parents, teachers, or therapists about challenges they face when working with kids, there's a good chance that the topic of TRANSITIONS will come up. Whether we are discussing a toddler in early intervention, a kindergarten student, or a autistic child in an outpatient clinic, transitions can be a challenge for many reasons.

Why Do Children Struggle With Transitions?

They may . . .

* Be very engaged in a current activity

* Feel anxiety about what is coming next (from a sensory, social, or motor planning perspective)

* Find themselves in a dysregulated emotional state

* Have not had sufficient preparation to know change is coming

Why Support Children with Transitions?

At first glance, the answer to this question seems obvious: We feel good when our kids feel good; We have other tasks to do - as do they. But there are other reasons as well.

. . . Our kids deserve better: Dysregulation feels awful and puts us into a negative emotional state that is difficult to pull out of. When a young student has a wonderful Speech Therapy session, for example, but then falls apart when it's time to go back to class, this sets him up for a terrible afternoon. When we intentionally and effectively co-regulate with a child and support them through transitions, we are showing respect for them.

. . . Confidence builds when a child experiences success with something that is challenging to them. Have you heard the phrase that success builds success? Experiencing a positive, calm, and well-regulated transition forms a memory of that transition and the positive emotions associated with it. The next time a child faces a challenging transition we can remind them of how they coped well last time using "this strategy" or "that strategy".

. . . Getting through a smooth and relaxing transition together develops a positive relationship between teacher and child (or caregiver and child). It's a win-win when you - as the adult - co-regulate with a child, offering supports and strategies that enable kids to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Our relationships with kids must trusting, in which kids first and foremost feel safe, supported, and understood.

So, what can you do? Read on if difficulty with transitions is something that your children and teens experience. You will learn 5 simple and successful strategies to support your children or students through transitions.

5 Strategies to Support Transitions:

(Scroll down to access your own COLORFUL printable information sheet to support transitions in your kids!)


Use visual schedules such as, "First we . . . Then we . . . " Please note that a visual such as this should simply be informational and not offer a reward as the second step. What we want to do is simply tell a child what is expected or what is coming. Often, speaking in a very "matter of fact" way helps children. An example of this may be, "We can play with the basketball hoop for ten minutes. After basketball we will carry the markers back to class."

For more information on the 5 Must-Know Categories of Visual supports CLICK HERE.

Always remember that ritual and routine support children!


When it is time to shift gears, children can hold a favorite doll for comfort and to support their regulation - this calms breathing, deepens breathing, provides proprioceptive (deep pressure) input, offers emotional support. Kids can tell the transition object that it is time to change gears and can explain to them what is happening. Model this yourself (kids enjoy this) . . . "Teddy bear, guess what? It is time to go to the front hallway. Do you have all your things?"


This may be one of the BEST transitions strategies and is probably my all-time favorite one. "Helping" makes kids feel good about themselves! But what do I mean, exactly?

In my OT work in an outpatient pediatric clinic, kids "help me" carry items to our amazing front desk person. Children may carry a heavy box of finger paints to her, a bin of bingo stampers, or many, heavy-duty toys. Can your kids carry some paper for you or push a box from HERE to THERE as they transition?


Try using fun activities like music or dancing to transition away from one activity and into another activity. If you are a teacher, you can "practice" some dance moves within a classroom, then have children do these same dance moves when it is time to put away books and take out math folders. Or, you can play VERY energizing music when kids are all poised and ready to transition. This turns a challenging task in to something motivating.

Get creative with this! Can kids clap in unison during a transition? Can they stomp their feet or wave their hands in the air? How about having kids randomly call out days of the week or months in the year or count by tens? Your task (yes, right now!) is to write down three ideas of FAVORITE and FUN activities that can support your kids during transitions.


This strategy may overlap with the previous strategy. But try your best to think of ways to add sensory input - and its very regulating and/or energizing effects - into transitions. Incorporate jumping, side-stepping, hopping, or animal walks to change tasks. Pull kids on a scooter. Drag them on a blanket, lying upside-down or right-side up. Have them play with slime or Play-doh. Hand them a favorite fidget toy.

The KEY Takeaways . . .

Throughout any and all of these strategies for transitions, keep something in mind. These are two final thoughts that you should consider and understand when it comes to supporting our kids through transitions.

1- Do your BEST to set kids up for success. This means choosing and planning a transition strategy ahead of time. For those of you who know me, I always, always, always emphasize that we be PROACTIVE with our kids. As the adult, it is up to YOU to help children transition well. Make transitions fun, use distraction and silliness in your own demeanor, rely on your knowledge of these helpful strategies to make success happen to the best of your ability! This will certainly not always happen - and please don't feel bad about this - but we must proactively do all we can to help.

2- This is NEVER about compliance or a battle of wills! Compliance does not build skills and as the founder of a business named, "Kids Master Skills" my hope is that children build many life skills, such as problem solving, sequencing, and planning. Pitting an adult's will against a child's instead will surely build resentment, not relationship and self-regulation.


Download this PDF (LINK DIRECTLY BELOW) to get your printable copy of the visual to the right and get your Kids Master Skills information sheet to support transitions in children and teens in your life!

Support Transitions in Kids - PDF
Download PDF • 1.09MB

My name is Dr. Lisa Marnell, and I am a pediatric occupational therapist on the faculty at Boston University. I develop resources for teachers, therapists, and parents, and I am developing continuing education courses to support our approaches with autistic students.

Learn more about my first course HERE:

I also wanted to share that I am SO excited to share my FREE Online Autism Masterclass is available now at my website HERE: In this course you will learn proactive strategies to support sensory sensitive autistic children and teens!

As always, feel welcome to touch base with me, Dr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, by e-mail at I would love to hear about your successes, your struggles, and any questions or comments you have! Let me know if this post was helpful.

Join my Autism Facebook group and keep up to date as I post more tips to help teachers, parents, and therapists help kids master skills! Join HERE:

Are you following Kids Master Skills on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or Instagram?

Finally, for a variety of skill-building resources, check out my store on Teachers Pay Teachers at

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