Ten Transition Tips for Toddlers

Is your little one melting down when you tell them it’s time to leave the park? Does your child scream or cry when you announce that it’s bedtime?

Transitions are hard! Even as adults we don’t like to be interrupted from a fun activity and forced to move onto something else, especially against our will. Our little ones also experience difficulties when needing to transition from one activity to another.

Rather than surprising your little one with an abrupt transition, try these tips to allow them to prepare for the upcoming change and give them a chance to complete the task at hand before moving on.

1. Give a 10-minute warning that an activity will be ending and give a warning every 2 minutes until it’s time to transition. (Short on time? Give a 5-minute warning then every minute until it’s time to leave.)

2. Use a visual aid like your phone timer or a sand timer so your kiddo (and you!) can keep track of the approaching transition.

3. Give your child choices and control when you can. Ask them to choose: “Would you like to stay for 9 more minutes or 10 more minutes?” “Would you prefer to go down the slide one more time or get a drink of water before going home?” “Would you like to put on your sweater yourself or would you like me to help you do it?”

4. End the activity on a positive note and remind your little one that you’ll return to the fun activity another time (if this statement is indeed true). For example, “I had such a fun time at the park with you today. You went down the slide so fast. I’m excited to come back with you to the park tomorrow.”

5. Plan a motivating activity to follow and/or give a rationale for why you need to transition. For example, “It’s getting dark outside so it’s time to go to the car and have a snack on our way home! ” Using enthusiastic language can help too!

6. Make the transition into a game. Jump, skip, or race to the car. Create your own transition song (e.g. It’s time to leave the park, it’s time to leave the park. We had fun and played all day, it’s time to leave the park; sing to the tune of The Farmer and the Dell.) Or, pretend you forgot where the car is and have your toddler help navigate you there.

7. Say goodbye to all the things you are leaving behind. “Goodbye slide, it was nice sliding down you today. Goodbye swings, see you tomorrow.”

8. If your child transitions well, acknowledge or appreciate their actions. For example, “Thanks for taking my hand right away when I asked you to get ready to leave the park.”

9. Reflect and normalize your child’s feelings if they protest or try to negotiate. For example, “I know you love playing at the park and it’s hard to say goodbye to the playground. It’s hard for Daddy to stop playing sometimes too.”

10. Stay calm and neutral if your child does start to display big emotions and know that this is developmentally appropriate for toddlers and young children. Be there with them while keeping to the expectation that you’ve set. Stick to the statements that you’ve made about transitioning and avoid giving them the begged for “5 more minutes.” By staying true to your statements and limits your little one is learning what to expect and (eventually) will have an easier time transitioning because of your consistency.

Ultimately, you’re the expert on what will support your child best with transitions. Some of these tips may not work, but hopefully you will find that some reduce frustration and make it easier to go from one activity to another. Caregivers, you got this!

If you’re seeking more support in your parenting journey and would like individualized coaching or therapy for your family, book a consultation today!