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Toddlers Are Not the Only Ones Who Hate Transitions-How to Help

Is there any worse transition than the month of January? We go from two months (more if you count the time the malls start ramping up) of planning, anticipating and celebrating the holidays to the hell that is January. What does January have to offer? The newspaper fliers no longer offer gifts and candies but exercise equipment, tools for de-cluttering and diet tips. The wonder of winter songs about snow and sleigh rides is replaced with announcements of school delays and cancellations. And more cancellations–plans for fun, work, get-togethers. And nasty weather–grey days, black snow, lack of sunlight. Where oh where is the upside of January?

Now I am an adult with control over many aspects of my life but look how miserably I am dealing with transition.

So imagine how hard it must be for a small child who has much less control over all aspects of their lives. And while there is not much that can be done about my malaise there are things that are helpful to do with small children.

One surefire way to incur the wrath of a child is to change things abruptly, with no warning.

Children like to know what’s happening and when. So one important thing to do with children is give them a lay of the land and rehearse with them. If you know that on Monday you have one hour to take Junior to the playground after school you could help yourself by telling him Sunday night what the plan will be when you pick him up from school Monday afternoon. And give him the details, “After school tomorrow I will pick you up and then we have one hour to go the playground. And after an hour then we need to go to the grocery store.” Then you can go over it again in the morning before he goes to school. Then, when at the playground, give multiple reminders of how many minutes left before it is time to go.

I do realize this may not go swimmingly and there may still be a meltdown when it’s time to go. But I can guarantee it will go better than just announcing, “Ok, time to leave and by the way we’re now going food shopping.”

Another way to cut down on transition upset is to be prepared when you go on to the next not-so-much-fun activity.

A grocery store run is not much fun for most adults but it can be made infinitely worse by adding a whining child to the mix. Unfortunately sometimes parents make life much more difficult for themselves. No child wants to go from the fun of the park to a food store where he is told to sit in the cart quietly and not touch anything. Do not expect a three year old to sit through a formal dinner at 8pm or to wait for car repairs with Nothing To Do! And yet I see many parents doing just this. I saw a mother of a two year old one time at a car oil change place swatting her child on the bottom because she wouldn’t just sit on the couch quietly and stare off into space. Well good lord I couldn’t do that! I have a bag of newspapers and magazines and, yes, my iPhone to amuse myself when on such an errand but this poor child had not one thing and all I could do was think ‘where is the diaper bag?’

Children need distraction!

When my children were small I had an enormous diaper bag filled with all sorts of distractions–books, snacks, toys. I also had the benefit of learning from my mother and aunt who were the masters of distracting children. They knew every nursery rhyme, every childrens’ story and could make up any song or story too. They could turn tying shoes or rinsing hair in the bathtub into a fun song. Putting away toys could be made into a game. I had one friend sing a teeth-brushing song and my children would run to the bathroom and brush with great enthusiasm. Another friend who made up a whole game out of taking out and putting back sugars in the caddy at a restaurant. I could tell my daughter Rudy Rachel stories about the naughty girl Rachel who didn’t follow the rules. One day trying on clothes in a store with my daughter losing patience I made up a story about Rachel being naughty and climbing under the dressing room stalls. My daughter listened just long enough for me to try on the dress I wanted and then it was time to go.

This is not to say that children shouldn’t have to sit still sometimes; they do need to learn that sometimes stuff in life is not fun but you have to do it anyway. And frankly I didn’t always have the energy my mother and Aunt had for distraction. But I see some parents with nothing ever to offer their children, other than technology. Don’t get me wrong—I’m quite envious of not having that as an option in my day. But creativity and books can serve a parent well. And the good news is that the song you make up doesn’t have to be great and it’s only later in life that your children will complain that your singing is flat. But if you make a game of saying what color the vegetables you pick out are or if you know some nursery rhymes you can even make Giant a little more interesting and maybe even fun. It’s all about increasing your odds of having more manageable moments and fewer meltdowns that are tiring for everyone.

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1 Comments on “Toddlers Are Not the Only Ones Who Hate Transitions-How to Help

  1. Fun distractions are not only for toddlers, but for adults too! Very important for adults to reward themselves if they have made it through grocery shopping with a toddler or two, or three….