Child Development 101: Helping Children with Transitions
Child development experts say each age has its challenges, and it's normal for children to go through an adjustment period -- even if it involves meltdowns and tantrums.
A childhood transition is a change from one phase or activity to another, according to Minal Dhanak, a licensed occupational therapist who works with children from birth to age 5 at the Child Development Institute in Woodland Hills.
"The most difficult ones for young children are when they are told to stop a particular activity, like 'Turn off the television,' or 'It's time to leave the playground,'" she said. "Children have a hard time understanding why they can't continue to play and have fun."
To ensure smooth transitions, Dhanak advises parents to be consistent with their messages, impose time limits and adhere to them. "Around age 2, children begin to learn what is expected of them. Parents need to prepare them for change and give plenty of notice by saying things like, 'We need to leave in 10 minutes' then continuing with the reminder that 'OK, now in five minutes we will leave,' and 'Now we have two minutes,' and so on."
Parents can usually resolve their child's transitions without professional help. But if frequent meltdowns and tantrums continue for more than a month following the same activity and parents are reinforcing limits and rules, they should seek help from a child psychologist or an occupational therapist.
"There could be sensory processing difficulties or developmental delays -- it's rarely just due to transitional difficulties," Dhanak said, noting an occupational therapist can evaluate a child's skills for play activities, school performance and daily living activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.
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