Toddlers and Change: 2 Ideas to Help Toddler Process Life Transitions

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Toddlerhood is full of big and small transitions. There are always new, perhaps exiting or scary, transitions for toddlers to process. While there is no quick fix or magic wand to wave away the difficulty of these transitions, I’ve found two ideas that have helped ease the difficultly of toddler transitions. 

Toddlers are dealing with constant developmental and life changes that can be both exciting or scary – and naturally, they can have a lot of feelings about it. It could be a move (cross-country or to a new apartment or home). It could be adjusting to a new sister or brother, a new school, a big kid bed, or going to the dentist for the first time. 

Setting expectations of what these changes will look like and allowing toddlers room to express how they feel about these transitions can go a long way.  

First, provide pictures that describe the transition or change:

For instance, when we moved to DC, my husband arrived first and found a home to rent. I took screenshots of all the craigslist pictures, and then I showed them to my toddler and walked him through the layout. I showed him his room, explained that is where he would be sleeping, and how we would be sleeping just down the hall. He loved looking at the pictures and talking about his new home. 

Second, provide books or create my own book on the transition:

I know, it sounds super involved, but really making your own “book” can be so simple and take less than 10 minutes. I’ve included a picture of my book, so you can see that it really doesn’t take a lot. 

When my son started play school, I spent less than 10 minutes making a stick figure two page book out of construction paper. The benefit of drawing your own book is that you can get very specific. My book on his classroom included a round table, the table where he would eat, classmates, etc. 

Looking at the book with my toddler, he had a lot of emotions. At the part where I dropped him off, he actually blacked out that picture and said “no, no.” Which is actually great – he was getting an opportunity to talk to me about how he felt about this transition. 

Making a book really not your thing? There are many series out there that tackle common toddler transitions. Elizabeth Verdick and Leslie Patricelli have some excellent children’s books that cover a wide range of topics.

Did my son still have difficultly with drop offs? Did he still have an adjustment to our new home and need more snuggling? Yes, of course. However, I’d like to think that explaining what was ahead and allowing him time to process it was helpful. 

Besides helping my son through the many transitions he will face as a toddler, I’m also hopeful that we are setting the ground for future communication and building emotional intelligence. I want him to know that we can talk about things, no matter what, and that we don’t need to shy away from difficult things.

Toddler transitions are tough. But talking can help now, and hopefully lead to a future of open communication. 

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Kristin grew up mostly in the midwest but has lived all over (California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, and DC). She currently stays at home with her three-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter, but previously worked as a youth social worker and in different corporate positions. She loves to be outside as much as possible and prefers walking everywhere (especially with DC traffic!). She is a sucker for donuts and cannot live without coffee. Her hope in sharing her writing is that other moms will feel less alone in their motherhood journey.

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