5 Tips for Easing Transitions with Toddlers

Avoid Toddler Meltdowns with These Transition Tips

Every parent has been there — you pick up your toddler from daycare or declare it’s time for bed and a meltdown ensues. It’s no secret that transitions -- having to stop one activity and shift to another -- are difficult for toddlers. And transitions are everywhere in a toddler's life, from daily routines like getting out the door for an activity and sitting down for dinner to life-altering transitions like moving from a crib to a big kid bed or welcoming a new baby brother or sister into the family. Because toddlers don’t reason like adults or have a concept of time, transitions can often be the source of bad behavior. 

For parents, managing the toddler tantrums and defiance that mark even the most minor transitions can be exhausting. But you can help your toddler. Use these tips to ease transitions for toddlers. 

Set up (and stick to) routines.

toddler girl crying and throwing a tantrum
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Setting up and sticking to your toddler’s normal routine can go a long way toward making transitions smoother. From the smallest of transitions, like leaving the park, to the biggest, like bringing home a sibling, if your toddler has a solid understanding of what is going to happen next, you are eliminating a lot of the anxiety and fear that can lead to bad behavior when a toddler is out of his comfort zone. 

Prepare your child.

Particularly for big transitions, like moving to the big kid bed or potty training, talk to your child about the transition that is about to take place. Make sure you give yourself lead time to discuss the impending change and what it will mean for your family. Books are a great way to introduce new concepts to toddlers, and many children’s books tackle these types of changes. 

But you can also prepare your toddler for life’s little transitions. Establish expectations for how long a playdate is going to last, or if you’re struggling to stop one activity, tell your toddler that you’re going to set a timer. When the timer goes off, it’s time to go. You don’t need to give your child an hour to wrap his head around this — 5 minutes is plenty of time — but the advance notice will help him understand that when the timer goes off, it’s time to shift to the next activity. 

Give choices.

Giving your toddler control over his destiny can help ease transitions. Keep in mind these choices can be small; the point is your toddler will feel like the transition to another activity was his choice, and not something sprung on him.

Try this: When at the park, ask your toddler if he would like to leave now or swing for five more minutes then go home. He'll (obviously) choose the latter, but this way, he'll feel like he made the decision, and it won't be a surprise when it's time to leave. 

Keep major transitions to a minimum.

Planning a move to a new home? Now is not the time to force potty training or take the crib away. If you're expecting your family to make a big transition, don't push other big transitions on your toddler at the same time. While it may seem like the perfect to give up the crib or diapers, keeping as many things the same for a toddler as possible will likely ease the bigger transitions. 

Determine if something else is going on.

While it's easy to pinpoint transitions as the source of toddler behavior issues, it is worth considering whether something else is going on. Common culprits of tantrums are over-tired or hungry toddlers.

If your family is struggling with bedtime or naps, this may very well be the case. Try putting your toddler to bed a few minutes earlier (start with 10 to 15 minutes earlier and keep pushing the time back from there as needed) or provide heartier snacks between meals. These small tweaks can go a long way toward a happier toddler who is more willing and able to manage transitions throughout the day. 

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