Schedules & Routines

The Trickiest Transitions for Our Kids — and Proven Remedies

Hyperfocus, time blindness, and emotional dysregulation all hijack a child’s ability to transition from one task to the next. In a recent survey, ADDitude readers shared their strategies for managing tricky, sticky transitions with routines, visual reminders, and rewards for good behavior.

Daily routine. Kids making various cases in all day
Daily routine. Kids making various cases in all day. Vector child daily sleep, eat and activity illustration

Whether it’s going to bed, getting out of bed, shutting down the screen, or heading out the door, transitions are hard for children with ADHD. Maintaining a reliable routine helps, but the pandemic has left no schedule right side up. In our recent Time Timer Sweepstakes, ADDitude asked caregivers, “What are your child’s bumpiest transitions? What is your secret to smoothing them out?”

Here are some reader answers that stood out to us. Add yours in the Comments section below.

Managing Transitions Using Timers

“The toughest transition is from video game time to bedtime or dinner time. My 13-year-old son can have a full meltdown with throwing and sobbing. We’re trying to give him a specific amount of time for games, setting a timer to go off 10 minutes and 5 minutes prior to shut-down time, when my husband or I sit with him while he finishes what he is doing and shuts down.”

“Mornings are the toughest: getting from bed to out the door can be filled with so many little transitions! We use the microwave timer to countdown to ‘leave for school’ time or sometimes to chunk time down even further: 3 minutes for teeth, 2 minutes to pick your bag, etc.”

“Lately, one of our bumpiest transitions has been ending TV time. My 6-year-old gets so dysregulated when I take away the remote. Her OT suggested letting her set the sleep timer so that the TV shuts off on its own. What a difference it’s made!”

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“The most difficult transitions for my children are going from watching a television show to homework or from finishing a game in the park to going home. I try to ease the transitions by putting a timer on the TV or setting a cell phone alarm in the park.”

“With schooling and working from home, the transitions are even more challenging because of a never-ending stream of adaptations. For example: The teacher is starting Zoom 15 minutes late, or there is no school for the day, but both parents are still working. Our most consistent struggles are moving from lunch/recess to afternoon Zoom class. On the weekends, it’s moving from play time to anything else. We use a visible timer, and we try to have one of the children set the timer. We praise transitions that happen immediately when asked.”

“Our most difficult transition is starting the bedtime routine. The Oral B Magic Timer app has helped my children with brushing teeth. Children earn a “sticker” each time they brush their teeth, and a toothbrush (the color/design of which the child chooses) brushes away parts of the screen covering the sticker over the course of two minutes while the child brushes their teeth.”

“My 6-year-old struggles with transitioning to anything that is not what she wants to do at that moment. I give her reminders about how much time she has left and set the timer on our Alexa.”

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“Our son’s most difficult transition is going to bed at night. As soon as we say ‘time for bed,’ it is like we said ‘time to eat!’ He starts whining about how hungry he is. We’ve learned to tell him when bedtime is way ahead of time and have HIM set an alarm on his device. We’ve also told him up front: If you expect to eat something, set the alarm for 20 minutes earlier.”

“My son takes a very long time to fall asleep and hates being left alone in his bed. I find the best way to transition out of his room is to coax the cat onto his bed for company. When she isn’t around, I set a timer and check on him at intervals, initially 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and finally 15 minutes, until he is asleep. It’s exhausting, but better than lying with him for an hour!”

Managing Transitions Using Movement

“When my daughter returns home from school, she is a tightly wound spring ready to pop. I stand out of her way and let her run up and down the hall for around 20 minutes. Once she is physically exhausted, she becomes emotionally and mentally calmer.”

“Leaving for school is tough. My son now wears his school clothes to bed and we have his lunch and bag ready by the front door the night before.”

“My son’s bumpiest transition is from activities that are creatively stimulating to activities that are more mundane. I try to make tasks seem more exciting: I’ll tell my son that the faster he can get it completed, the faster he can go back to doing the ‘fun’ thing. It usually works with minimal moaning or fit throwing. I also try to make his mundane work a little more fun by theming it (we were secret agents trying to figure out the secret code; his room is going to fill with hot lava and the only way to protect his clothes is to put them in his dresser, etc).”

“We’ve been setting alarms to start doing homework and sticking to a daily routine as much as possible. Even though they might not feel like doing homework in the moment, their brains start ‘getting ready’ if they anticipate the routine. I also have them do 25 jumping jacks right before starting. It gives an energy boost and helps with motivation.”

Managing Transitions Using Visual Reminders

“Our most difficult transitions are related to being prepared for the day and night. I was constantly prompting my children with reminders, then finally I decided to write them down on a whiteboard. I gave them magnets to physically move to each task. We have a clock next to the board so they can check if they are on track. All I have to say is ‘Have you moved your magnet?’ Our mornings and afternoons have improved and I am no longer sounding like a broken record.”

“Leaving the house and coming home are both hard for our family. We made a checklist with pictures of what we need to do to leave the house that has helped with getting out the door on time with everything we need. I have another picture checklist in the car that shows what we need to bring inside when we return and where each item should go. I often give my children 10 minutes of quiet time either in the car or immediately when we get home to prevent sibling squabbles right when we walk in the door.”

Managing Transitions Using Verbal Reminders

“The toughest transition for my child is coming inside after playing outside. The only thing that helps is routine. He knows which days he has more time to play outside and which days he does not. I give him a lot of warnings when his time is ending. If there is a change in schedule, we discuss it the night before and again in the morning to alleviate stress.”

“My children always struggle with transitioning to any multi-step activity (homework, chores, evening routine), so methods that have worked best include a visual schedule for their morning and evening routines and using the repetition method where I repeat what they need to do a couple times and then have them repeat it back to me.”

“My son’s bumpiest transition is when he needs to stop playing video games. He seems not to understand how long he’s been playing; if he’s been on the screen four hours straight he will say ‘I just got on 30 minutes ago!’ I have been using our Time Timer to ‘show’ him how much time is passing.”

“My son struggles to stop doing things that he’s really engaged in, like drawing, riding his scooter, or watching TV. I first set a time and tell him, ‘five minutes until you need to stop,’ then ‘it’s almost time to stop, choose one more thing to do.’ When it’s time to end, I give him choices: ‘Time is over. Would you like to play outside, or draw now?’ Giving him a choice has helped with power struggles.”

“My grandson struggles with starting virtual school every morning and transitioning back after a break. I have found that reminding him how much time he has left to play helps. It also helps to tell him how long he will be doing his classes, so he knows when he will be able to get back to playing.”

Managing Transitions with ADHD: Next Steps

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