Transitions for Children: A Play Therapists’ Secret for How to Get Kids to Change Activities!

Many parents express great frustration regarding transitions for children. When a child is engaged in a fun activity, and it’s time to go or do something else, it seems like it’s almost impossible to get the child to stop playing and do what he needs to do! And trying to pressure the child can result in tantrums, defiance, crying, screaming etc., and we sometime have this problem many times a day! Well you’re not alone… As a play therapist, I have that exact same problem maybe as much as 5 or 6 times a day, every day in my Playroom! A child spends a 45-minute session playing with all of my amazing toys, and when it’s time to go very often he or she is unwilling to leave… He’s having such a good time and just can’t bear to leave my toys, not to mention all the attention and love I am heaping up on him… But the problem is I am on a tight schedule, and I have another child waiting in the waiting room, I have to get the child to leave on time! And it certainly would be inappropriate for me to force the child out, drag him, yell at him, beg him or rely on the parent to force him to leave.  So what do I do? Fortunately, the great Play Therapists have created a solution that works like a charm! I will teach it to you so you can use it in your everyday transitions for children. It’s called Reflecting and Repeating.

The truth is, every child knows that fun activities can’t last forever, and there will be times that he has to give them up to do something important.


The problem is that he is just getting so much pleasure out of the current  activity, he just can’t muster the strength, discipline, maturity and responsibility to give it up! Therefore, we help give him that strength by Reflecting. That means reflecting back verbally to the child an appreciation for how much he is enjoying his current activity, and how hard it is for him to leave it. We need to give the child empathy for his situation, in other words to show him that we know how he’s feeling right now, how much fun he’s having and how disappointing it is to him that he has to leave, and how hard it is for him to exercise the discipline to get himself to leave. For example, we say, “Oh wow, you are really having a lot of fun playing with those balloons right now! You really want to keep on playing some more, but it’s time for us to go, it’s time for us to go now!” “Oh, you’re blowing up another balloon! Wow, a big red one! You’re really having so much fun! But now it’s time for us to stop playing with balloons, and it’s time for us to go! It’s time for us to go now!” “Oh, now you’ve found another toy that you really want to play with… You really want to figure out how to transform that transformer, it feels so good to work on that! But now our time is up, it’s time for us to go now! Come now, it’s time for us to go!” Then we just keep Repeating statements like these again and again, and 99 percent of the time within five minutes the child gets up on his own and walks happily out of the playroom.

The secret for transitions for children is, instead of coming from the outside and laying down the law,


that now you have to stop the fun and do with the adult wants, which makes the child feel bossed and that you have no consideration for what’s important to him, his desires, or his feelings, we inject ourselves into the child’s world. We spend a few minutes accompanying him and celebrating his current activity, and showing him how much we appreciate and are gladdened by the fact that he’s having such a good time, and how we recognize how difficult it is for him to stop what he’s doing right now. Only then after that empathy do we present him with the reality that unfortunately now he has to go. The pleasure he gets from our reflecting and empathy makes him feel so validated and respected and empowered that it gives him strength and inspires him to be able to comply with the direction to stop the activity. He thinks, “I see the adult really understands how much fun I’m having and how difficult it is for me to stop. He is so kind that he is very patiently and lovingly sharing in my pleasure with what I’m doing, and he really regrets that I have to stop the activity. I see he really wishes he could let me keep playing. In addition, he is showing so much patience and kindness and love to me, that makes me really respect and admire him, he is in such control of himself that he doesn’t get impatient or angry! All that makes me want to be kind back to him and follow his directions. I see that since he’s being so kind to me, that he must have my best interest in mind and therefore somehow it must be also in my best interest to stop the activity right now… Also, I see that he’s not rushing or pressuring me at all he’s giving me several additional minutes of time to play because he sees how difficult it is for me to stop. I really appreciate that, and just like he’s respecting me I am inspired to respect him and to do the right thing.” 

Sometimes, you might need to reflect and repeat 10, 20 or 30 times to the child, 


And that is no problem! It is very important not to get impatient, exasperated, angry, worried or fretted, as that will cause the child to lose respect for you. And in addition, you can’t give the child any empathy or appreciation if you are feeling angry and impatient. Remember, if it takes 10 extra minutes to get the child to stop and leave, that is 10 minutes well spent! In that way, you don’t have to do any of those disastrous interventions such as yelling, forcing, threatening, punishing, bribing, scolding, criticizing etc. Don’t forget before it’s time to go, give the child a 10-minute then a 5-minute then a 1-minute warning, and then give him a bonus 2-minutes to show him how much you want him to have a good time, and then begin the Reflecting and Repeating. Additional reflections can include, “Oh Wow, I see it’s really difficult for you to stop watching TV right now, you are enjoying it so much! It is really disappointing for you to have to stop! I really appreciate that, but unfortunately it’s time for us to go, it’s time for us to go now!” “Wow, I really wish I could let you play longer, I see you having such a good time! But the problem is, it’s really time for us to go, it’s time for us to go now! Come, let’s go, let me have your hand, it’s time for us to go now!” “Wow, I’m so happy that you’re having such a good time playing that video game right now, I see you’re having so much fun that it’s just really difficult for you to stop, but now we really have to do something else really important! So, it’s time for us to go, it’s time for us to go now!” It’s amazing how well this technique works! The trick is to be super calm, patient and loving, and to be firmly convinced that continuing to play for more than a few minutes more is just totally not an option, and to show the child how much you respect and appreciate his need to have fun, so that he will feel secure that everything we do is in his best interest and he will be inspired to comply.


The same technique also works if you need a child to comply with some other rule, such as for example he wants to take something with him when it’s impractical to do so. You reflect, “Oh, I see you really want to take that toy with you! It would be so much fun if you could bring it in the car! But we just can’t take it, it has to stay here, so it won’t get lost and it will be here for you when you get back!” Or if a child wants a treat that he can’t have right now, you can reflect, “Oh Wow, you really want to have that ice cream right now before dinner! That would make you feel so happy, I wish I could give it to you, if I could I would give you a big cone right now with sprinkles, but unfortunately we have to eat dinner now, It’s time for dinner now! Your ice cream will be there for you right after dinner!”

This technique has worked for me for many years every time! With children, patience, tolerance, love and persistence is the guiding light.

Feel free to peruse the rest of my fascinating blog, view my videos, or download one of my informative free reports at the bottom of this page. If you are struggling with transitions for children, and feel I may be the right NYC child therapist to help you, feel free to chat with me in the chat box, send me and email, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!