Is a storm coming?
We lived in a valley. In the winter, storms came into the valley from over a large mountain range that frequently blocked storms. Only storms strong enough to force itself over the mountains would flow into the valley.
Weaker storms would cross the mountains in strips – cloud stripped the sky one chunk of cloud at a time and maybe the valley sky might fill with cloud and drop rain or snow.
Powerful storms started with warm, calm days, pulling moist, warm air towards it, dragging cold, snowy air behind it. The clouds would create a wall behind the mountains, miles into the air. The fast winds at high altitudes pushed them over the valley, turning the sky luminescent.
In the late afternoon or early evening, the winds would start. Sometimes gusts shook the house, the trees banging against the walls, whistling leading us to where we need new caulking or weather stripping.
By morning the snow would have started. As a rule, the later the snow starts in the day, the more there will be.
There could be patterns to the storms, yet weather is inherently unpredictable, and theorizing how a storm might play out in our valley was kind of the same process as assessing how my son would manage transitions.
Any transition, be it from play to getting ready for bed, or travel 500 miles to visit relatives, could go smoothly or could be difficult. We could guess, based on past experience, and plan for contingencies.
Like planning for a storm, even the best made preparations could be for naught due to changing variables we were not aware of. If he was not feeling well, had a bad day at school, or was experiencing anxiety, those variables could change everything.
There were basic steps we took:
1. We’d tell him or remind him of an impending transition. Sometimes we’d ask him what is coming up so that he had to visualize the transition ahead of time.
2. We got him to imagine the transition several steps out, to help his brain “shift gears.” If it was transitioning from play to getting ready for bed, we asked him what came after he stopped playing, after he got his pajamas on, after he brushed his teeth.
3. We gave him choices related to the transition, generally a choice between the known transition and a consequence.
4. We attempted to generate buy-in for the transition, by reminding him or getting him to recognize the positives that came from the transition (visiting people he loved, going swimming, getting to go to school and show off his new shark t-shirt, etc.).
Still, in the end, like the weather, we could be ready with the shovels and get just a few flakes, or we could think the warm air was going to last and the driveway was impassible in the morning.
It was important to be flexible and accepting because, like the weather, it was what it was.