Inside: How to Help Your Toddler Transition Well From One Activity to the Next without Tantrums
It was time to close up playgroup, a classic toddler transition time that often ends up with one or more children crying.
On this day it was no different. A little boy sat on a mini blue trike, holding on with all his might.
He had escaped the wardrobe area, while his mom was putting on her own shoes and coat. He had found his way back onto the wonderful tricycle and was enjoying a moment of total joy.
He had this look on his face that made it seem like knew very well that it was time to leave. Except he didn’t want to leave at all.
In true toddler fashion, he refused to even look at his mom when she called for him to get off the tricycle.
“Playgroup is done. Let’s go.” His mom beckoned over and over again.
The Final Moments of A Difficult Transition
The little boy added a second hand onto the trike handle and leaned forward. His entire body was practically hugging the trike in an effort to stay.
I closed the windows, drew all the curtains, wiped the tables and vacuumed the floors. All the other children had left and this last mama was definitely ready to go too.
Her little boy had other plans.
The last stray blocks were now back on the shelf and all that was left to do was to park the trike in the hallway, turn off the light and lock the door.
Toddlers transitions are often very challenging.
Even harder when transitions are imposed by arbitrary things like the clock that says it’s 11am and your toddler is having loads of fun.
“Seriously, it’s time to go. You need to step off the trike and hand it over to Ariadne. She is locking up! Can’t you see, she MUST turn out the lights and lock the door.” Mom went on to explain and explain and explain to her toddler.
The boy tried kicking his mama’s shin but missed.
Then tears welted in his eyes.
He was so not ready to let go!
Mom’s patience ran out as this transition proved to be extra difficult
She offered up a smile to me but it was clear she wasn’t happy.
Have you ever had one of those moments when your kid isn’t doing what you need them to do? Did it make you feel short on patience and heavy with worry or frustration?
It can be challenging and draining when toddlers refuse to cooperate. Especially around transition times like leaving a playgroup, getting into a bath after dinner or putting on shoes to get out the door…
Hoping to extend some compassion and understanding towards this mom I smiled.
“Please do help me….what am I supposed to do? Why will he not move or listen to me?” Asked the mom.
“Maybe, If I could make a guess I would say it’s just so nice to be here.” I said, kneeling down beside this little boy. “I think If I could, I would also spend ALL day here, playing with this blue trike.”
The little boy looked up at me with a huge smile and started nodding. His mama asked him “Is that it, you like it here so you can’t leave?” The boy nodded again.
Validation and Listening Can Help Toddler Transitions Go Smoother
“Do you feel upset about having to leave?” I asked with the intent to validate.
“I sure don’t feel like having to leave here sometimes too. That play-dough pasta we made was so squishy, and the zig zag song made me laugh. Oh! And this trike is just great isn’t it? The way it zooms and rolls…” I paused.
The boy was nodding and his tight grip was releasing from the trike handle. “I know you don’t want to go, so we can help each other leave. I’m also getting ready to go. And the best part? We get to see each other again really soon.” (more validation in action)
The little boy suddenly had big glimmering eyes.
He looked at me for a moment and then smiled. I extended my hand to him and he moved one hand off the trike to take it. I offered the little boy a choice to park the trike alone or with some help from me or his mom. “It’s not really what you want to do, but we can be there with you.” He extended his other hand to his mom, let go of my hand and slid off the trike.
As I stood up, the mama bent to move the trike but the little boy swiftly took the handle and off he went. He pushed and pushed the trike to it’s parking spot, turned around, toddled over to his mom, took her hand and this time he went with her right through the door.
Why This Way of Transitioning Worked
In our playgroup we often discuss ways to make parenting and life with little ones easier (we all want that as parents right?) Themes that keeps repeating itself are: connecting, coaching and cooperating. It all ties in together because: Children feel safe when they feel loved and know that their feelings are valid.
Since this has happened, this mama has shared her experience with other mamas at the playgroup. She shared that she realized from the blue trike incident that she needs to listen to her son, even if he has few words he can tell her what he needs.
Often when I talk about connecting and coaching children I get countered with: “So I should just give in and let the child win?”
It’s not about giving in or letting children win.
It’s not a competition.
It’s not a battle.
It’s communication, compassion and taking the time to find a true connection.
This can happen when you pause long enough to listen, validate and encourage your child to participate in the transition process. Like the little boy having the opportunity to park the trike before leaving.
Transitions are often hard for toddlers but there are ways to make it easier using Connection, Cooperation and Coaching:
1.Pause for a moment and let your child own what they are feeling. (“you are having fun on the tricycle!”)
2. Honor where they are in that moment (“you wish you could stay”)
3. Acknowledge honestly that you have different plans (“Hey, this is not what you want to do.”)
4. Cooperate by finding a reasonable choice that moves everyone towards a common goal ( “I can help you park the trike or you can do it alone.”)
5. Be confident and calm about setting limits when it’s time to leave or move on. Negotiating endlessly can cause anxiety for everyone. Remember that you are the adult and your child needs your clear guidance.
Some toddlers are more flexible about transitions, others are quite rigid and resistant and need a lot of practice, validation and guidance.
If you can keep calm and remember that your toddler is still learning how to move from one activity to the next and you can try to honor your child’s particular needs you will likely find transitions will get easier over time.
To learn more about putting connection, coaching and cooperation into action check out our Positive Parenting First Five Years online course. This is a complete toolkit of positive parenting tools to bring more listening and cooperation into your home.
Peace & Be Well,
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