Smoother Transitions

Pretend for a moment that it is midnight.  Or is it?

Suddenly, all of the clocks in your home have become dysfunctional.  Every timepiece has broken; even your computer and cell phone are displaying error messages instead of the correct time.

Minutes and hours are marching onward, yet you have no idea how many have passed.  Is it time to eat?  Is it time to leave?  Is it time to expect your loved one’s return, or is there more time to wait?  Without an effective timepiece, you simply have no idea!

This bizarre existence is reality for our children.

A youngster has no idea when a minute begins or an hour ends.  To a child that cannot tell time, the difference between a day and a week is difficult to describe.

It is helpful to explain to a children what a minute is by demonstrating a familiar task that takes that long.  For example:  It takes one minute to walk from our home to the Smith’s house.  Five minutes is how much time it takes to sweep the kitchen and hallway.  (Now the little prince or princess has something useful to do when you say, “wait five minutes!”)

Once a child has a basic understanding of time, smoother transitions between activities will occur when he has warning that the task at hand is about to end.  Saying, “In two minutes we have to leave the playground!” will give your son  the ability to mentally wind down from the current activity.

Just as you would not want your spouse to suddenly interrupt your reading and say, “We have to leave right now”- your child also requires advance warning in order to facilitate a smoother transition from one activity to the next.

Despite the fact that the youngster is not the individual who is creating the schedule, the knowledge that the project at hand is going to be replaced by another task will give enable her be emotionally prepared for the change.

As we go about our busy days as well as the more relaxing periods of time with our children, let’s remember to take the time to verbally prepare them for whatever is coming next.

Here’s to happier and smoother transitions throughout the day!


  1. Thanks for the reminder. I know that I, as a parent, found it good on the loooooong car trips to break the time segments into Barney-bits. “We will be at grandma’s in 7 Barneys!” It gave my kids something tangible to compare this ethereal concept of time to.

  2. Thanks so much for this great comment!! I think kids really like to know whats going on around them, it makes them feel more in control of their environment and throw choices in with the timeline and you will have a much better behaved kid throughout the day.

    My daughter has a huge problem with transition as she is autistic/Aspergers. She loves a schedule and really NEEDS to know what will happen next to prepare her for it. Especially if it involves something scary like going to the doctor. We use
    social stories and pictures too-but the time has
    helped IMMENSELY also.

    Another one we use too is a digital clock. She is only 3 (close to 4) and cannot fully understand the minutes yet–but we use the hour number.

    For example: #8 is wake up, breakfast, get dressed etc…
    at night we start again with #6 Dinner #7 Movies
    or TV #8 Snack…etc… This also gives Moms and Dads a whole hour to remind them of the task, talk about how to do it etc…

    if #9 is bath I remind her at 9:00 to get our things ready, prepare to wash your hair-remember keep your eyes closed etc…And it is still “number 9” to her so we have all this time to get everything ready and complete the task. It really has made things easier on her and using the hour number makes it much easier on me to have time to prepare her and get everything ready.

    I know that my niece is developmentally sound and doesn’t need as much coaxing to do the things she really does not want to do, but it worked for her too.

    HOORAY for the digital clock!!

    What a really great discussion this will be!!
    I am definitely going to start doing the minutes
    soon and I like the idea of doing the task that takes that amount of time. Can’t wait to see how it works. I anxiously await comments on this topic. Thanks!!


  3. I have found a timer to be very effective with my 2-year-old. I tell her she has half an hour to play and when the timer beeps we need to take a bath (or whatever). Instead of screaming when we leave the playground or our neighbor’s house, she willingly turns the timer off and says “come on, mom”.

  4. i think this is a good reminder to me as a teacher. in my kindergarten, we usually have a break for half an hour. but we didn’t tell the children about the time. we just use a bell. when it is time to have a recess, we will ring the bell. sometimes i realize that they not happy because when they want to do something,the times is over.they do not know how to estimate the time left.i try to change this in my kindy.

  5. I don’t know how helpful this is, but we spoke to our kids about the placement of the sun (in relation to the mountains in our area) and how when it is in the East (by the mountains) then it is breakfast time. Time for homeschool, when it is straight up in the sky, it is time for lunch, and to hurry to finish our homework. When it is in the West (by the lake) Then it is time for dinner, time to read, take a bath, have prayers and scriptures. It seems to help them. My 6yo is just learning to tell time with a regular clock with hands, but he can tell time with digital clocks.


  6. Karen C Cherry says:

    This is my first time to post a reply although I
    have been reading small souls since 2006.pardon the pun I found this article very timely.I was just explaining to my husband last night how our son doesn’t know concept of time,and how I use his school time to help and tell is on Fri so I tell him when he asks say on Wed. its 2
    more sleeps(we suspect he also has aspergers)
    Paula’s idea is great with the hour numbers I use that also for bathtime and bedtime.For whole days or weekend plans I find it helps to tell him by using school days/home days and the “sleeps” sorry so long and thanks for the article.

  7. Funny how you can get the same message in so many ways, just when you need to hear it….
    Yes, we have to remember that our children have their own “agendas” for the day, hour, minute. If we respect that, we will be more patient when we want to disrupt their agenda.

  8. I learned through experience to always give a time warning e.g. we’re leaving in five minutes . . . that’s one minute, there are four minutes to go . . . .

    As a teacher, I would remind parents of older children to teach children to learn how to tell time on an analogue clock. They can see fifteen minutes as a quarter of an hour.

  9. My daughter is itellectually disabled and can not read numbers nor do they have any meaning to her. We use to use one Barney show then we purchased a clock that has numbers but shows red for how much time is left. It’s great – if she has an activity that she is anxious about I can just set the timer and then when she ask how long I refer her to “how much red is left on your timer” It’s called a time timer — check it out at

  10. Thanks for the article.

    My husband and I were able to figure out that our two year old does so much better with knowing ahead of time that a transition will be happening.

    From the time he was much smaller, we have used counting down, the timer, and reminders. They have all worked really well.

    I am a stay at home mom and our son is not in school yet. What do you suggest for transitioning your child when they are not able to be reminded to move on to the next thing when they are in a different environment? Such as school or with other care takers?

  11. Just the other day my 5 year old asked me, “Mom, when is Halloween?” I answered, “In a few months.” His reply was, “A few months… but that will take all day!!” Isn’t this Q & A fitting of this article on time and transitions!
    Being that my son has no concept of time and has a hard time with transitions, the thing that has helped me to help my son get through his very busy weeks during his pre-school year was a special the calendar I had made for him. I used stickers next to the each day of the week to represent the different activities he’s involved in. (e.g. A sticker of a schoolhouse represents the the days he goes to Pre-K, baseball stickers to represent the days he has T-Ball, etc.) Using this system has made him more independent and he has given him a comfort level as he refers to the calendar each morning and knows what to expect each day.

  12. One thing I have done for my kids for big events that are far away is use a paper chain. We talk about how many days until (our trip, school starts, halloween, etc) and then make a big paper chain with one link for each day. Then they can take off a link every morning. It’s a great visual.

    A great discussion to go with this is that you can’t make time go faster or slower, so don’t think if you take an extra chain link off the big day will come sooner. So wht do we do when it’s a long time to wait? Do other stuff and the time will come soon enough. Use your time well. If you sit around waiting for something to happen, you’ve wasted a lot of time that could have been fun.

  13. very insightful and useful info.