Tips for Smoother Toddler Transitions and Fewer Tantrums

Screaming ToddlerEver notice how all toddlers tend to fight and tantrum when cleaning up a favorite toy, turn taking with a friend or get buckled into a highchair? These all represent a transition for your little one. Toddlers do not learn how to control their impulses and to develop self-control until later in their third year of life. The part of the brain that children use to stop themselves, the pre-frontal cortex, is just starting to develop at age 2. In any transition, you are asking that your child stop what they are currently doing (and enjoying!) to start a whole new activity or routine, and typically the new activity is something that was not their idea!

If you notice that transitions are beginning to become a struggle for you at home with your young toddler, there are many strategies and tools that you can use to make these less stressful for both you and your child.

  • Transitional Objects: Sometimes your child needs a few extra minutes with a lovey or blanket, or they need to take the block with them from the playroom to the car. Allowing especially young toddlers a little wiggle room when transitioning from one activity to another can be helpful while this skill is still developing. They will not need these transitional objects or toys forever, but in these challenging toddler years, you avoid many unnecessary battles by allowing that favorite book to come with your child into the car.
  • Transitional Songs: There are lots of different clean-up songs that you can use as not only a way to make transitions fun, but to also remind your child of the transition that is happening. And do not stop at cleaning up toys – find the transitions that are challenging for you and create little songs and rhymes to warn your toddler of those as well, from buckling in the car seat songs, to getting out of the bath songs, to brushing teeth songs, to marching to the car songs.
  • Warning Systems: Many families practice different warning systems to allow children to mentally prepare for a transition. “In 5 minutes, we are going to clean up and go back inside…In 2 minutes, we are going to stop playing and go inside…In 1 minute, we will be all done playing outside…Ok, 5 minutes of playing outside are over so it is time to go inside.” These warnings allow children to anticipate that a change is coming versus reacting to a transition already in process.
  • Hellos and Goodbyes: Just like using a clean up or transitional song, use goodbye and hellos when you are transitioning from any activity. Make a big game of waving hello to the highchair as you walk into the kitchen, or saying goodbye to the playground when you need to head home.
  • Talking about steps: In older toddlers, giving them some control and power about what is happening in a transition can be really helpful. Use their burgeoning language skills and their improved ability to follow multi-step directions, by asking them what comes next as you set up their bathtub or get their breakfast ready. In older two year olds, you can even pretend that you don’t know the next step of the activity and allow them to tell you how to clean up the activity.

For more strategies and ideas on challenging toddler behavior, check out our Toddler Essentials class, Parenting Consults (by phone) and upcoming free webinar, Positive Discipline for Toddlers on Tuesday, 4/23 at 8PM.

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About Kim Bennett

Kim has been a proud member of Isis Parenting since 2007. She holds a master’s degree from Wheelock College in infant and toddler development and intervention and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Middlebury College. After college, Kim gained experience in the field through conducting research on postpartum depression and maternal mental health at Mass General Hospital. Kim is a certified early intervention specialist who has conducted home visits, run developmental toddler groups and assessed infants and toddlers with special needs and developmental delays for several early intervention programs over the last few years. Kim is an enthusiastic instructor who loves teaching both early parenting groups and child development classes here at Isis. A Boston native, Kim currently lives on the south shore with her husband and two young daughters.

One Response to Tips for Smoother Toddler Transitions and Fewer Tantrums
  1. Saba
    April 23, 2013 | 12:31 am

    Curious to know how you feel about the timeout method for children?

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