talked out
Getty Images

From playtime to bedtime! These 5 strategies will help your toddler transition without a meltdown…

Life is full of transitions. From dinnertime to bedtime, we’re used to them. But toddlers aren’t quite accustomed to the transition yet.

Dr. Joyce Sibbett shares five ways to help toddlers get used to transitions.

Find more tips from Joyce at


Toddler Transitions: How to Help Your Child Adjust

As any mother can testify, toddlers and transitions don’t mix well. So how do you deal when your child’s will power battles your own? Toddler transitions such as instituting morning routines, school drop-offs, play groups, and store outings are easier when you are prepared.

Here are five ways to help your to make those daily life adjustments easier for both you and your toddler.

1. Give a heads up

First, your goal of trying to get compliance will be much easier if your child has an idea of what’s coming next, and what maybe even an incentive to comply.

For example, a sand timer is a great way to help your toddler watch time pass.  If you have a five-minute timer, you might say, “the sand will be at the bottom of the timer in five minutes, then we will leave to pick up your sister from school.”

To add a simple incentive, you might say,  “I’ll bring Dino Dinosaur for you to play with in the car.”

And if tracking time, like 5 minutes, is too hard for your child then counting may work, “we’ll build two more towers and then we’ll go get in the car.”

2. Be clear about the next activity

Make sure that your child hears you clearly and knows exactly what you’re asking him to do.  It’s ideal to stand close to them – don’t yell from the room down the hall – and whenever possible get down on your child’s level and make eye contact.

For example, at your child’s level, you can quietly say, “it’s time to take a bath. Your two favorite water toys are floating in the tub. If you can go with me right now, you will have plenty of time to play with your toys.”

Again, in this example you have a built-in incentive to make bath time fun, but you need to follow through with a shorter bath time with less time to play if your child does not comply.

3. Develop a routine (as much as possible)

Create a schedule that will provide consistency and allow your child to anticipate the day’s schedule.  You can even do this visually by creating a picture chart to identify the main parts of your day. A young child can have fun with this. Again, you might try to include a reward or incentive activity.

An example would be getting ready for bed. You could say, “If you have all of your toys cleaned up in five minutes (again you can use the timer), we can go upstairs and brush our teeth. Then we will have time to read a fun book.”

4. Give them choices

Choices are appropriate for things that children can easily understand and make an immediate decision. Limit the choices you offer and make sure that the boundary does not extend beyond the choice options.

For example, “Here are two outfits, and you can choose one of them to wear tomorrow. Pick your favorite.”

Another example would be one that uses consequences such as, “We are now going to dinner with the family. You can either choose to sit quietly in the restaurant, or I will sit with you in the car until you show me you’re ready.”

The second example shows a difficult consequence for inappropriate behavior in a restaurant, but it has a built-in incentive to join the family for dinner in the restaurant as soon as your child commits to appropriate behavior.

5. Use distraction

To avoid a full tantrum at the park because it’s time to go home, pull out a bottle of bubbles. Blow bubbles all the way to the car. “Can you help me stomp the bubbles all the way to the car?”

Singing a favorite song can also work, or playing hopscotch as you hop to the sink to get cleaned up.

And give yourself the time needed to use these techniques.

Being consistent and clear are the best ways to help your child transition without digging in their heels.

Dr. Joyce Sibbett is the owner of Dr. Joyce, co-founder of Dancing Moose, has been a Professor of Education at Westminster College for 20 years and is currently a Westminster Professor Emeritus.  Joyce completed her AMS Administrative credential from the Institute of Montessori Innovation. She continually strives to put best practices into action at Dancing Moose by organizing and overseeing curriculum.  She teaches and coordinates ongoing in-service classes in the Dancing Moose Rings of Knowledge program.  Joyce enjoys supporting teachers’ efforts to enrich every aspect of children’s social, emotional, and academic development.

Add comment