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Tricky Transitions for Toddlers

Uncategorized Jan 21, 2022

 “I don’t want to go to daycare today”

 It is human to struggle with transitions, but no one on earth struggles more than our gorgeous toddlers.

Some days it feels from the minute their chubby feet hit the floor they are crying because you cut their toast in triangles instead of squares and every little thing is a battleground!!!

They don’t want to get into (or out of) the car or the bath and they are definitely not listening when you tell them it’s time to stop playing and put their shoes on for day-care.

So, what’s up with that?

Why is it so hard?

And more importantly, how can we bring more peace to tricky transitions for our toddlers?


Firstly, why is it so hard?

Because these little humans, are just making sense of their world. Their emotions and brains are still developing. So, they cling to routine because it helps them feels safe, and they drag and stomp their chubby feet to let us KNOW.

The thing is, I really get why toddlers struggle. I find it hard to finish up doing something I am enjoying and start something that is harder. Who else finds it hard to turn off Netflix at night and go to bed? Or to get out of a warm shower and get dressed? Or put on the trainers and go for a run? 

But for toddlers who don’t have a grown-up brain and emotional vocabulary to manage the fact this feels so hard – this causes a meltdown. Leaving parents feeling like life has become a constant battle ground.

So how can we help our little humans with transitions? Here are my six steps:


1. Preparation pays off

Warning your child about a change or transition in advance is important.

Even better than an immediate warning, is a chat in advance about what’s coming next. You might even do this over breakfast, or in another calm moment. In my house we often draw this out on a whiteboard so our youngest (and most stubborn “transitioner”) knows what the steps will be. Seeing it visually can really help.

Knowing what’s coming seems to really help toddlers. You want to tell your child when things are happening, and what steps will be involved, and who will be taking them I.e. “Today is a day-care day. You will need to put on your clothes and shoes and socks and then daddy will be taking you in his car. Which water bottle would you like to take? The blue or the orange one?”

 This gives your child the chance to process what is coming, and to express an emotion about the day ahead in a space you have time to respond and connect, often once that emotion has been voiced and kids feel heard they are able to move on and out of the house in (relative) peace.


2. Connection before commands

 As a mum of four boys let me tell you. If I try to say anything (apart from who wants chips?) I will not get a response If I don’t connect in with them first.

 It only takes a moment to stop, to notice what my child is doing and tune in. I might get down at their level and say “wow you have built the biggest Lego tower this morning!” Or maybe I’ll notice they are just having a hard time and go in for a big hug, where I told them until they push me away.

 These small moments of connection usually have my kids looking lighter, softer (and ready to listen.)


3. Transition time – get in low and close

When it's time to go/get in the bath / pack up the toys - get in close tell your child what's happening. You need to believe you have everything you need to be the confident leader in this situation. Stick to your word so they know you are at the wheel.

If your child looks like they are going to struggle try giving them some control amongst it all "yeah, I can see you have had such a fun time at the park and you don’t want to leave. Do you want to pick a special rock to bring home with us? " Or "I can see you really don't want to stop playing with your cars, but it's time to go, do you want to hold my hand or have me carry you to the car?"

Don't stop the momentum of moving on from A to B - it's important you are still confident and in charge and most importantly always kind. 


4.  Welcome emotions

Some days, no matter how well I prepare my kids, they are going to struggle with a transition. It helps to know this is normal and that the best way though this is to really embrace it and sit in that emotion.

Welcome the crying, anger, disappointment - transitions are hard! Tell your child you hear them, it's ok to be sad/unsure etc. "Yeah I hate stopping what I am enjoying too, I can see this is hard for you today".

Breathe - know it's not your job to make this better for your child or make it stop. It's your job to ride the wave of emotion and keep moving through next to your child as they process the big feelings, it's never easy for us but it makes such a difference for our child when we do.


5. Believe in your child.

I’m no stranger to walking out into the day-care carpark and bursting into tears after a horrible drop off. But what I’ve come to realise is that my child having a hard time at drop off is normal, natural and it’s ok to have them cry. This can be so hard to remember in the moment though, and sometimes we get so caught up in the struggle we join in their fears and doubts.

The final step in assisting your child through big and small transitions is believing in them. A child struggling to go off to day-care happily really is doing their absolute best and this too will pass.

 Part of believing in them is walking away and saying goodbye when the time is right with complete confidence. Showing them, that even though they are worried – you are not. You know they will be ok.

It’s this belief  of ours in them that they really pick up on, and a little person feeling such huge feelings as they separate from their parent is able to sense our confidence.  Which sits in contrast to their own feelings of doubt and helps them to know that you (the centre of their world) know it will all be ok.


Photo credit @tessdonohuephotography 

About Gen: Parent Educator and Obstetric Social Worker at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys, Genevieve is passionate about working with families around connection and attachment with their children from birth to five years.


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