Most parents recognize the importance of daily routines and structure in maintaining family harmony. Children do better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Predictability ensures safety, security and optimum brain functioning in the developing child. When children feel safe and secure, they are more willing to venture out into the world and less likely to behave inappropriately.   It isn’t the rigidity of the routine that is important but the certainty – that one activity consistently follows the other.


As most parents can attest, where difficulties tend to arise is in the transitions from one activity to the next that form part of a child’s daily routine - getting up in the morning, having breakfast, getting dressed, leaving for school or child care, coming home, having dinner, bathing, brushing teeth, going to bed. Along with these daily transitions that seem to focus around sleep, meals and play there are life transitions. Life transitions centre around big events in the life of a child such as the birth of a sibling, moving houses or starting school. Parents tend to take the time and preparation necessary for a child’s adjustment to life transitions but it is usually with the daily transitions that power struggles ensue. These are frustrating times but with a little patience and a lot of creativity, parents can facilitate smooth transitioning for their children.


So what can we do to make transitioning from enjoyable activities our children are participating in to others that they may not be as enthusiastic about and avoid conflict? Allowing for each child’s temperament, age and stage, here are ten tips for tranquil transitions:


  1. Advise your children of the daily agenda & involve them in decisions where possible. There will be less resistance if they feel they have a say. Allow choices and avoid surprises.
  2. Structure the environment for success & autonomy. Have hooks and shelving at child height, baskets for toys and blocks. Keep toys to a minimum so cleanup is less challenging; child-friendly bedding (duvets instead of blankets and sheets) so bed is easy for a child to make.
  3. Give warnings and/or use a timer to teach children the concept of time. Allow enough time to complete a routine – do not rush them.
  4. Sing/whistle while you work! Keep the fun in chores and activities.
  5. Feed them before they are hungry and ensure they go to bed before they are too tired.
  6. Temperament – For some children any change is difficult no matter how small it may seem to adults. Where possible limit the number of transitions (changes) in a day and don’t give too many instructions at once.
  7. Recognize the power of play – Play is children’s work. Make a game out of whatever you want them to do. If they have trouble with routines and remembering, use visual reminders – make a poster or draw footprints for where you want them to put their boots & shoes.
  8. Don’t take it personally if they don’t seem happy to see you after school or day care. They may need time to adjust to being with you again after a long day with other caregivers.
  9. Have family meals but don’t rush them. Take some time to unwind together and enjoy each other’s company.

10) Take advantage of community programs such as Family Resource Programs to help you model routines and transitions for your young children. Have them observe other children sitting quietly, washing their hands before snack or singing the tidy-up song. Transfer these strategies to home.



Mimi Hudson, M.A., R.C.C.

Director of Community Programs

Family Services of the North Shore