aka:  What can I do to help my child to change from one activity to another without life being a constant battle?  How can music help?

Do these scenarios sound familiar to you?

  • Fight to get her into the bathtub, then fight to get her out.
  • Refuses to get dressed because he doesn’t want to leave the house?  Then begs for more time on the playground.
  • Is capable of going potty, but not willing to go to the bathroom.

This is not about the bath, or leaving the house, or the potty.  This is about TRANSITIONS.

From a child’s perspective, “This is about leaving what I KNOW, what I am interested in at the moment, and what I am enjoying…   I’m not ready to STOP doing THIS.   What comes next may not be as interesting as what I am doing right now.”

Honestly, even I get annoyed when I have to leave something that is interesting or important in order to go to the bathroom (the call from within), or for me to briefly stop a good conversation with a friend to respond to the repeated call of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…” (the call from without)   So, I can understand and empathize with the difficulty a child has with both of these kinds of transitions.

Children live in the present moment, even if the attention bounces from one thing to another in that moment.  The present moment is like a magnet, pulling at their thoughts to stay close.

Something that is NOT in the present moment is an abstract thought, it requires them to visualize something they cannot see, and think about the positive associations or importance it may hold.  The idea of “importance” is an extremely abstract thought… kind of a more adult one… that sometimes we as adults tend to be distracted from.

Abstract thought develops over time as the child’s brain develops enough to start being ABLE to make those kinds of connections, and as they have EXPERIENCE to build these neural connections.

The understanding and skills needed to easily move from one activity to another does not naturally develop.   As is the case with most social skills, children need us to be patience and understanding of their actual abilities, and need our guidance to handle transitions more effectively.

There are some proven ways to ease those transitions

  1.  OBSERVE FIRST, and get into their PRESENT MOMENT.
  2. INTRODUCE the idea of what may come next, and determine the best timing.
  3. Work together to CHOOSE the best transition for the moment.

Yes, this does take more time than simply directing a child to the next activity and ensuring they do so.  And YES, it is the only way for them to build the skills needed to be able to direct themselves from within.  And once you get the hang of it, it really doesn’t take that much longer, and can be a lot easier on the hearts and souls of the people involved.

Yes, it may help to have a bit more explanation of how to do that, and how music can play an important part in tempering these transitions.  As a Kindermusik mom, and educator since 1998, I am a lifelong learner, from specialists in the field, from personal experiences, and from working together with families to infuse music into our daily lives for the many benefits it brings.   All of this just ties everything that I have learned about transitions together, and organizes in a way that may help you.  IMHO… Kindermusik makes parenting easier.



Watch what the child is engaged with.  Let your child know you are there and watching them.  This “intrusion into their space” can actually become something they look forward to.     A child can feel so special every time you greet them just by singing a simple recognition.

–          “I see Cora.  I see you playing… playing with your trains.”

When recognized for what they are doing before interrupting them, they learn to feel respected as a person and that that their interests are important.  Showing respect in this way is a skill we want them to develop as well.  When they feel this respect, and they have experienced what happens that make them feel this way, they are more likely to want others to feel this way too… at some point(LOL).

Continue to connect with them by verbally describing what they are doing and recognize how they may feel about doing this.  This may help give them new words concerning the object or the action that is fascinating them at the moment.  “You are having so much fun with the magnets on your trains.  It feels neat when they pull themselves together, and you have to be strong to pull them apart.”  Note the little complement that was slipped in, helping them feel proud about what they can do.

Also try to cue into how deeply they are processing the current activity.  When the brain is involved in an activity, it is searching for, or following patterns.   If they are totally absorbed in figuring something out, or are in the midst of completing a standard routine, it may be good to let them finish the process before moving on.    Is this a book that this child feels compelled to finish every single time?   Is this a new skill a child is trying to master?  Is this a friend that will be hard to say goodbye to?


INTRODUCE the idea of what may come next, and determine the best timing.

Instead of a direction, like “It’s time for a bath.”  Consider how you can help them paint a pretty picture in their mind about what will be coming next.   Asking questions helps them activate their “thinking” brain, rather than focus on the emotions that may feel with idea of changing activities.

  • “When you are in the bath, we can sing Itsy Bitsy Spider and listen to our music.  Do you want to play with your boats, or with your floating drum?”
  • “Which music should we listen to in the car on the way home?”
  • “Which book would you like to read while on the potty?”

This, by itself, may be enough to get them up and moving to the next thing…. Or not.

Sometimes all they need is for you to provide a bit of notice and a time frame so their brain has time to prepare for the transition.

  • “You have 15 minutes to play with your friend before we have to leave.  I’m setting the timer now.”
  • “Let’s play your favorite song, “Happy”  When the song is over, we will leave go to the store.”

Just make sure YOU respond effectively at that time, or the cue/ time frame will become something they learn to ignore.   I must admit, as a mom, I have had a hard time with this… when I tell my child 5 minutes, then take 15 minutes, my child develops a skewed sense of time…  I’m just saying that my bad sense of timing has become her bad sense of timing.  And if my child actually does follow through on time, but I take too long, my child has a much harder time following through the next time.  I have mentally kicked myself many times over this, and gotten a lot of verbal bantering because of it.   Ugh.  This is totally on me, and it does help if I make sure to apologize to her and try to make it right and re-connect as soon as possible.   Some personal experiences, regardless of how embarrasing it is for me, should be shared so others can learn what NOT to do.

If they are truly invested in the activity they are currently in, it may be helpful to determine how long it will take to let the process continue to a natural close.  Consider the value of the respect of extra time to wrap this up and be more ready to move on.   Consider that some children need time to “wrap their head around” the need to move to this next thing.   Parents can provide a set time, or ask their child how long they need until they are ready to move on.

–          “I’m going to get the bath water perfectly cozy for you, so we’ll get started in about 5 minutes.”

–          “When that show is over, it will be time to leave. Let’s comb your hair and get on your shoes while the show is finishing.”

–          “Do you need 2 or 3 more minutes to play with your trains before we march to the bathroom?”


Work together to CHOOSE the best transition for the moment.

Maybe, they just need a fun way to get from one place to another.

  • “Let’s slither like a snake to the bathroom for a bath.”
  • “Do you want to stomp or tiptoe to the kitchen for lunch?”
  • As you are walking, chant along with the steady beat of your feet,  “Let’s WALK to the kitchen, and listen to our feet, clip clop, clip, clop, Walking to the beat.”  (This is a Kindermusik activity in our upcoming Milk & Cookies unit here in Lakeland !)
  • Put them in a laundry basket, and pull them to their next destination in the house, singing a parade song.  (The kids LOVE this in our classes!)

Regular routines may truly become a fun thing to look forward to if there is a special way to get there… every time.   Here are two ways we came up with in our family.

Upside Down to the Bathroom

My son was not fond of brushing his teeth.  We created a song to sing while he brushed his teeth, which made it more fun.  But it was still a struggle to get him to GO to the bathroom to do so and would give me the Grumpy face.  I started singing a song I learned as a child…

“If you chance to meet a frown, do not let it stay.  Quickly turn it upside down and smile that frown away.”

Well, he LOVED to be upside down, and when he heard that, he made a choice.

So, this is a true story, every day, for almost a year, he’d put on a frown… I’d sing this verse, and turn him UPSIDE DOWN, and carry him to the bathroom while singing the second verse.

“No one likes a frowny face.  Change it for a smile.  Make the world a better place by smiling all the while.”   (Words by Daniel Taylor; Music: Anonymous)

Then we’d get to work on cleaning his smile.

Potty Time Parade

Of course, my daughter came along and had her own set of challenges and choices that relate to transitions.  This bright young girl started being able to use the potty quite early on, around 20 months.  She liked being ON the potty and doing her thing, but this headstrong girl became ADAMANT about not wanting to leave what she was doing to GO to the potty.  After some research that led me to this idea to make the transition more fun, and some serious creative kharma, I wrote a song that, pretty much, was able to get her up and dancing/marching to the bathroom with ease.

“Potty Time, Potty Time, Let’s go to the Potty Time.   ‘Cause it P-O-T-T-Y time.

I gotta POOP,  I gotta PEE  I gotta get to my seat.   (repeat until sat upon the throne).

NO KIDDING !   It worked ! … at least most of the time.  And this girl was fully potty trained by the time she turned 2 years old.


NOTE:  It is not always necessary to use the three main steps every time it is time to start a new activity.  IF there are challenges, THESE are some ideas to try.  THAT is the best we can do, add ideas and tools to our parenting tool belt, so we can pull out the ones that will be most useful for the situation at hand.

Yep… In life, transitions come in many forms, and we are often faced with big transitions that are hard.  As we help our children navigate this challenge on a small basis, such as changing from one activity to another with grace, finding the best it the future, and making it fun to get there, we are teaching skills that will help them as the transitions become more challenging.


Please share your thoughts on these ideas  to help our children handle transitions more easily.   SHARE your story of how you make transitions better in your family.