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Helping with Transitions

Toddlers live in the moment, so it can be tough for them to stop one activity and start another.

Let them know what to expect each day. This helps them feel secure and self-confident. It also helps them learn how to handle stress. When stressed, toddlers sometimes communicate with tears or tantrums because they don’t have many language skills yet.

You can help with these transition tips:

  1. Give notice. Set a timer 5 minutes before it’s time to change activities. Say something like, “When you hear the bell, we’ll put your toy away. I’ll help you put on your shoes, and then we’ll get into the car and go to Grandma’s.” When the bell goes off, say again that it’s time to get ready to go.
  2. Create rituals. Routines are predictable, so they give children a sense of order – especially with When you say good-bye to your child, say you’ll give him 3 kisses. Ask for 3 kisses in return. Then tell him that you’ll give him 2 more kisses when you pick him up. This will let him know you will be back. Create other rituals, too, that help him prepare for what’s happening next.
  3. Use simple words. Simple words cut down on power struggles. When it’s time to eat, kneel down in front of your child and give her a one-word description of what she’ll be eating, such as “Soup” or “Spaghetti.” Simple communication like this can help her stop what she’s doing and move on to her next activity.
  4. Offer choices. When toddlers have choices, they have lots of room to Let them choose how to do the next activity – not whether to do it. If “no” isn’t a choice, don’t ask a “yes” or “no” question. Ask: “Do you want to wear shoes or sandals?” Don’t ask: “Do you want to put on your shoes?”
  5. Don’t make threats. Toddlers need consequences that make sense. Threatening them can create a power struggle that isn’t necessary. Avoid counting (“If you’re not on your feet by the time I count to 10… “). Also avoid making threats about a consequence (like a time-out) if you aren’t prepared to follow-through.
  6. Get on your child’s level. Instead of arguing, change your tone of voice. Get down on one knee and lower your voice. Tell your child very softly what you would like him to do. Talking to your toddler at his level can help him calmly switch gears and move on to the next activity.

Limit screen time. When toddlers are active – instead of passively watching a TV or device – it’s easier for them to move onto the next thing.

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