Managing Transitions with Toddlers

Imagine you were having a great time catching up with your friends, laughing and joking, when suddenly an enormous pair of hands reached down, grabbed you without warning and carried you away…

Now imagine you were sitting by yourself, nearing the end of a great book when, unexpectedly, the giant pair of hands returned, carrying you away from your book while a voice instructed you that it was time to eat…

Some toddlers will naturally find transitions harder to manage than others as a result of their temperament. But ALL kids find transitions challenging when they are moved along from an activity in which they have been engaged. Sometimes this is expressed as frustration, disappointment, crying, defiance or aggression. And when we imagine ourselves in these situations, it’s easy to see why. Let’s face it – we’d be upset too. So what can we do to make transitions a little easier?

The keys to minimising the upset caused by transitions are warnings, choice, and consistency. You can also use labelled praise here too.

When you know that a transition is coming, let your child know by giving a warning.

“It will soon be time to finish up your play and come inside.”

Or, with my own children, I say:

“It’s almost time to come inside. Can you think about how you’d like your play to end and work on that ending now please?”

Offer a choice point if you think it might be helpful:

“Are you ready to finish up now or would you like a couple of minutes to finish your play?”

At the transition time, be consistent. Again, offer a choice point if necessary:

“It’s time to come inside now. Would you like some help to pack your play away or would you prefer to pack it away yourself?”

Finally, you can provide labelled praise if you think it might be helpful:

“Thanks very much. I was really impressed with the way you worked on your ending once I told you it was almost time to finish. You figured that out really well.”

The key steps to managing transitions:

  • Warning
  • Choice point
  • Labelled praise

Perhaps you’re taking this approach already during transitions with your toddler. But if not, I’m sure you can appreciate how this approach is likely to be more successful than the sudden appearance of the ominous giant hands…

Dr. Kaylene Henderson is a medically trained Child Psychiatrist, popular parent educator and mother of three. Kaylene also shares her practical tips for parents on TV, radio, print media and with her engaged social media community. Visit A Dose of Awesomeness to download her online advice packs on a range of topics including anxiety, behaviour, meltdowns, school readiness and more. Together, we can help our kids to become more calm, kind and resilient…what could be more awesome?