Daily toddler transitions made easy

Finding it difficult to get your toddler to transit from one activity to another? Here are tips to make life easier for you!

By Chitra Satyavasan

Daily toddler transitions made easy

Your toddler is quietly stacking colourful blocks, one above the other, with an intense concentration that you do not wish to break. And yet, you realize that it is her bedtime and she has to get her required amount of sleep, so that the next day’s schedule does not go haywire. Which one of the following will you do?

  • Pick her up, amidst all the cries, and put her to bed.
  • Collect the blocks and put them in the bag, while she screams in protest.
  • Sing her favourite bedtime song, watch her reaction and slowly pick her up and move to the bed.

If you chose the third one, you have probably mastered the art of handling transitions. But for those yet unschooled in this art, suffice it to say that help is at hand in the form of a few tricks!

“During transitions, the most important thing a mom should keep in mind is to be diplomatic and always put herself in her child’s shoes, showing sensitivity to her child’s needs. For instance, even adults don’t like to be disturbed when they, let’s say, like reading a book. So why rudely interrupt the child? As the child cannot understand the world, the mom should respect her child’s feelings,” says Dr S Anandalakshmy, a child development expert based in Chennai.

Therefore, it helps if ‘moms also allow some flexibility, instead of enforcing a military style discipline, with every hour scheduled for some kind of activity’, she adds. Transitions can be pleasant affairs if you are cued in to your child’s varying moods, and make allowances for that by giving your child a wee bit more time to prepare for the next activity.

Give warnings

If your child is merrily kicking a ball, plopping down on the ground and clapping his hands, a smooth way of stopping play and getting ready for home would be to give him a warning.

“If a mom and her son are kicking around a ball, the mom can say, ‘We will play for 10 more minutes. After that, we are all going home’,” says Dr Anandalakshmy.

But you may wonder whether a toddler can make sense of your ‘10 minutes’. Apparently, though the hour and minute hands of a clock mean nothing to your child, he does possess a vague sense of time. So you can add by saying, ‘You can kick the ball 10 times, and then we will go home’.

“One thing to remember is that under no circumstances should you yell or shout at your toddler. A soft, friendly voice works well with toddlers,” says Sreedevi Prakash, principal of a reputed preschool in Chennai.

Offer attractive options

Another way of preparing your child for the next activity is to interest her with something she can look forward to.

“All children enjoy games, and an outing to the park is something they look forward to every day. So when playtime is over, one way of telling her that it’s time to leave, is by assuring her that she will still continue to have fun when she leaves the park. A mom can say, ‘You can play for 5 more minutes. After that, we are all going home, where your teddy bear is waiting for you’,” says Dr Anandalakshmy.

This way, your child knows that she can play some more at home, this time with teddy.

Involve the child

“If you have prepared a healthy snack and you want your child to come and eat, you can say in a funny tone ‘Carrots are good for our eyes. Who wants beautiful eyes?’ The child will say ‘I want’ and rush to you,” Sreedevi. 

It is snack time, and your child is having fun in the pool or the bath tub. How do you get him out of the water and change his clothes?

“We will wear a new dress and then have an orange. Who wants an orange?’ If the mother involves the child, and makes the next activity interesting, transitions will not be messy affairs,” says Harsha Mehra, principal of another well-known preschool in Chennai.

Sing songs/rhymes

Preeti Vasan, mother of 2-year-old Aarush, in Chennai invents light and fun songs to divert her son’s attention.

“If it’s already bath time and my son is busy playing, I will tell him that he can continue playing in the bathroom. We play a game that I have devised called ‘Pinky Pinky’, where I turn on the tap, and put one foot forward. He also puts his foot forward. He loves playing with water and he does not miss the act of playing as even taking bath is a kind of play for him! Also, I have a song for every activity. For example, if I notice that his diapers have to be changed, I sing to him the Happy Birthday song, so that he doesn’t start crying when he has to stop doing whatever he is doing,” she adds.

Songs seem to be a favourite with another mom K Sujatha from Chennai, who admits to singing the popular Tamil baby rhyme ‘Dosai amma dosai’ when she wants her 3-year-old daughter Devika to happily move away from the cartoon show on TV, and get ready for dinner!

Pay compliments

Another way of making it easier for the child to move to the next activity is to compliment his efforts at something that was keeping him busy till then.

“Suppose your child is building a tower with the blocks, and you want to take him out for his evening stroll in the park. The mother can say ‘Did you do this? Wow, you have stacked 5 blocks without it toppling over! Shall we go out to play now? You can bring your blocks along if you want to’,” says Sreedevi. According to her, compliments work because they make the ‘child feel important and happy’, and he will co-operate with the parent for another fun activity.

3 more tips

Barbara Nelson and Rebecca Walsh, founder of Early Childhood Matters, parenting workshops and facilitated playgroups in San Francisco, US, offer a few more tips on handling transitions:

  • Set a timer: Let your children know that when they hear the beep it is time to move on. It can be an alarm on your cell phone. When little ones have a chance to adapt to the idea of changing what they doing, tears are less likely to flow.
  • Make them your helper: Get down to your toddlers level, look them in the eye and ask them to help you. For example, when getting ready to leave the house, ask them to bring a bag to the car or find their shoes. Let them know how important their help is!
  • Allow for transitional objects: When going from the bath to story time ask – “Which bath toy would like to hear the bedtime story tonight?”