When Changes (And Transitions) Are Intolerable For Your Child

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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Before I had kids I had no idea what it meant when I heard someone say their child has a hard time with transitions. I never said this aloud, but in my smug, naïve, childless head, I thought, Kids are slow, sure, but just be the parent and tell them what to do or they will have to deal with a consequence.

And then I had a kid who has a hard time with transitions and I want to punch my pre-kid self and explain that what this means is that a child will become rabid if you try to move them from one activity or space in a timeframe that does not work for them. Also, the timeframe that works for them will never work for you. My kid does not transition well and I don’t always handle it very well either.

This is just one more topic all of those What To Expect books didn’t cover—or maybe they did and I missed it when I was dealing with a kid who was in a puddle on the floor because she had to stop stringing beads to put on pants. This kid would be my youngest daughter. When she was a baby she cried when transferred to the car seat, when she was toddler she became very anxious and cried when she saw her other mama go through the routine of leaving the house for the work, she has always hated getting dressed or undressed. Change has never been her jam.

I don’t always love change either, but for my daughter, it’s like she sees it as vendetta against her. She is now six, but other than her ability to independently do more for herself, she still struggles. Whether it is time to eat, time for school, or bedtime she either can’t focus on anything that is productive to the cause, or she is so focused on an activity (that magically needs to happen two minutes before it’s time to move on) that pulling her away to stay on time creates a lot of turmoil. She doesn’t listen. She refuses to stop what she is doing. She is very vocal about needing more time despite having been given more time. She doesn’t want to do the next thing. She tantrums, gets angry, and lashes out.

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Please don’t diagnose my kid. I am sensitive to the fact that my kid’s struggles and resistance to change come from sensory issues and anxiety; I hate that she feels overwhelmed by a world that seems to come at her too fast and loud and big to the point of losing control of her emotions.

I have tried suggestions of doctors and therapists and articles that deal with this issue. I set timers. I create visual reminders. I give reminders of time left on the timer. I talk out what needs to happen. I make sure she knows the plan. I do my best to give her enough time to get from point A to B. I repeat the expectations several times. Sometimes these things work. But most of the time my daughter is a hot mess throughout the process, and I don’t have time or the patience to take it to the next level of empathy and creativity.

I have two other kids to get ready for school or bedtime who also need guidance to transition—not as much, but they are eight and six and can be complete assholes when it’s time to follow instructions. And I have a schedule to keep too. I have to take care of my needs and get to work or appointments on time. I don’t have the energy to sing a song to signal transition time. I don’t want to have to rely on games or bribes to get her to move along. I don’t have it in me to head off or harness the explosive reactions. So I become explosive.

I yell, she yells, I yell some more. There are usually tears and lots of frustration. She is frustrated because she feels rushed. I am frustrated because I know she needs more time and I gave it to her. I know she needs reminders and I gave them to her.

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I feel like I am doing the best I can and it’s still not enough.

I have physically removed her from a room to get her to get her out of the house. I have taken projects out of her hand and walked her to school while she threw a fit. I wish I could be the calm and patient negotiator for every transition, but I don’t have it in me to create distractions to make brushing her teeth in the morning easier.

I read about the transition strategies that “work like magic” and prevent tantrums, to which I want to say, Thanks, but fuck you, I tried. I am exhausted. Maybe I am doing something wrong or maybe she needs something I don’t know yet. Maybe this is just who she is and she is going to have to figure it out on her own as she gets older and the consequences of being late are between her and a teacher, friend, or coach.

I don’t have 15-20 minutes to work through every defiant transition with my daughter. On the really bad days when I am just too mentally exhausted to be flexible and patient, I feel guilty for losing my shit. And it’s really hard not to silently compare her to her siblings, and I hate that her need for extra attention and patience takes away from the bank of what I have to offer to her brother and sister. I feel like a shitty parent to all three of them.

I make sure to loop back to my kid after a rough portion of our day. She knows I love her. I know she is trying. I am trying too. That’s really what the books need to cover—the never ending quest of trying to be our best parenting self, even if that looks different with each transition.

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