Do you struggle with getting your kids to change activities? Here are some gentle ways you can help little kids with transitions!
Let me be honest…
I find the toddler years very challenging and draining – not just because I hit the ground running in the morning and don’t stop until my 2 girls (ages 1 and 3) are in bed, but because I find the toddler’s growing independence (and the way they act) so very difficult at times.
Some days it feels like my oldest daughter, moves as slow as molasses (on purpose even!). Other days I can’t get her to sit still for a minute in order to eat, dress, clean-up or whatever else is on my agenda.
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Here are some things I’ve learned about how to help my daughters cope with transitions:
If I’m behaving like a drill sergeant (and barking orders like one) at my 3-year-old daughter, I know she will not be receptive to what I’m saying (who would be?).
(True, I’m a “get-‘er-done” type of person and my mind is often on the process rather than the people involved. Something I need to work on.)
When I make efforts to build a connection with my girls throughout the day, then they’re often much more receptive to what I need them to do. This is because they feel loved and valued by me, not merely pawns to be moved at my will. (I’ve heard that this works with husbands too!)
Here are some easy ways to keep connected with your kids:
- get down on their level
- look directly in their eyes
- pay attention to what they’re saying
- show sincere interest in what she is doing
- make quality time for them each day (even just 10 minutes)
Related: Easy ideas for spending quality time with your kids
Hungry or tired?
This is a BIG one.
Little children probably won’t tell you when they are hungry or tired, but they often act out because of it!
There have been many times when my daughter was whining or crying or complaining and I (slowly) realized that it was because she was tired (and/or hungry).
If you are running through your day and moving from one activity to the next, make sure your kids are getting enough rest and food in-between.
My adult siblings and I have a joke that each of us gets “hangry” (angry because of hunger) when we need to eat. We need to remember that little children also get out of sorts when hungry (or tired or anxious or fearful or…), but they need our help because they often can’t articulate this.
I learned how to empathize with my daughter from a great book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen (see my list of favorite parenting books here).
Often, when my daughter is upset or sad or frustrated if I can sincerely empathize with her this will diffuse her emotions and help her calm down.
Who doesn’t want to feel supported when having to deal with difficult emotions?
If I can understand and empathize with her (I understand you’re having so much fun playing and don’t want to leave! I wouldn’t either!), then she’ll feel heard and loved and be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.
Here’s a great example from the authors of How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen related to empathizing:
Give your child what she wants in fantasy.
For example, my 3-year-old wanted to stay the night at a friend’s house one day and after I told her we couldn’t and she cried (and I empathized), I said:
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stay at her house all the time?
and together we imagined what their room would look like and what colors they would paint the walls, how many toys they’d have…and this helped!
Related: How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child
Offer Simple Choices
Can you imagine being “bossed” around all day by people who were bigger in you (and in charge)? Your child might feel upset at the lack of control in his life.
You can help by offering choices to your kid, giving them some power over their lives. For example:
- Let’s choose 2 more things to do in the park before we leave.
- Would you like to run or skip to the car?
- Can you help me carry the bag or would you like to push the stroller?
- Do you want carrots or broccoli for our side dish?
My daughters love to do big, “grown-up” things. When I invite them to help me do something “grown-up” they rarely refuse.
When my youngest was a baby, if I said “I need some help pushing your sister in the stroller”, my oldest would jump at the chance to help me do this very important job.
Make it fun
I find this the hardest. I like to accomplish the items on my to-do list as quickly as possible so I can check them off and move on with my day!
Trying to make things into a game is not my favorite thing to do. Rather, I’ll lean toward getting huffy or irritated if things aren’t going very smoothly (or quickly) as I’d like. It’s something I definitely need to work on!
My daughters’ father is great at making everything a game:
- Let’s see who can clean up all the toys the fastest!
- Let’s march like soldiers to the car!
The girls LOVE when I try to make things into a game!
Once, when my oldest was about 3, I needed to cut her nails (at the time she hated this!)
When I took the nail clippers, I told her it was hungry and wanted to eat her nails. Then, while I was cutting, I made it “talk” and say things like “Yum, yum, yummy, these nails are so good!” “Oooo, this nail tastes like chocolate!” “I’m so hungry, let me eat more nails!”
She giggled a lot. Now, whenever I mention that I need to cut her nails she says “Make it talk!” and happily lets me cut them.
Try making transitions fun by changing them into a game (a race, a contest) or by seeing who can count all the flowers on the way to the car or who can find the birds in the trees or how many green cars are in the parking lot…
Children love games and contests and FUN!
Talk and explain to them honestly
I think you should always be honest with your children.
I always try to explain the reason why I am doing something to my 3-year-old. She might not understand everything (or agree with me) but at least I am showing her my reasons and helping her to make sense of life.
We need to leave the park now so that I have time to get dinner ready before you are too hungry!
Your children might not care or be able to fully comprehend the situation, but I think it helps to show them you have a reason for the transition – and you can follow up with a silly game!
Transitions are hard with small children because they have big emotions and they live very much in the present moment. You can help little kids with transitions, by taking time to use these gentle techniques for a smoother, calmer day. If you have any additional ideas, please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!