If you are raising a kid impacted by trauma I can predict with 99% certainty that you have struggles with transitions. This is a “Justine” fact, but I would put money on it! At any rate, you are definitely not alone in this struggle. Simple requests like “Honey come down and wash you hands for dinner” or “Time to leave the park” or even just getting to the car to go somewhere, can cause huge melt downs. This can come from lack of predictability in early developmental stages where the child learned that transitions don’t go well. Children feel they need to be in control for survival and transitions feel like a loss of control in their nervous system. Children who transitioned from foster homes, left biological parents, death, divorce, etc. are examples of life transitions that could be triggers of what is at play.
There many great Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI) strageies that we can draw from to help with this. In the Empowering Principals maybe hunger, thirst, tiredness have an impact that can be looked at. Even using timers is a TBRI empowerment strategy. With the Connecting Principals there are certainly ways we can recognize our triggers and the ways we use our voice, tone, and engagement to make transitions better. However what I want to focus on is the TBRI Correcting Principals with this one, specifically the proactive skills. Proactive TBRI skills are what we do to teach behaviors we want to see outside of the stressful moment. This is one of the hardest ones to remember to do and to find time for, but can be a game changer for assisting with hard times like transitions!
One thing I have tried is making a “Transition Game.” The object of the game is for the child to pause immediately when you say to and move to the next activity. I make a list of six activities and the child rolls to dice to see what comes next. This gives the child some control in this and allows for cooperation with you. I will say “pause, next activity!” when it is time to change and then they roll the dice. I decide to switch based on how I see them doing and their window of tolerance. When you make the list I reccomend to choosing a few things they would be excited about but also include an unprefered activity so they can gain mastery in switching because they will be motivated to move out of that activity. I include high and low energy activities to also practice self-regulation and training for their nervous system. If your child does well, you can also include something that is a real challenge like T.V. or tablet time. It may be best to work up to this for some children so they can feel competent with ones that are less challenging. A common question I do get asked a lot is what age range is TBRI for? This and other proactive strategies are for all ages! How I explain this to teens is that we need to train our brains like any other muscle and this activity is like going to the gym for our brains. With teens it would also be helpful to make the list together with activities you both enjoy or struggle with.
The benefit of proactive strategies is that you can use the “cue words” in the moment when behaviors arise next time! After doing this game I was able to say to my daughter “pause, next activity” when she struggled with a transition and she laughed and then found it easier to stop what she was doing. She has even asked to play this game again!
Let me know if you try this or what other areas of struggle would be nice to create a proactive game around!