When Transitions Are Just So Hard for Toddlers

As I was getting ready to close up playgroup, a little boy sat on a mini blue trike, holding on with all his might. He had escaped the wardrobe area, I’m guessing while mom was putting on her own shoes and coat and found his way back into the playgroup room.  As he sat there, in all his winter gear he refused to look at his mom who was now ready to leave.  “Playgroup is done. Let’s go.” She beckoned for the fifth time. The little boy added a second hand onto the trike and leaned forward making it ever so clear he wasn’t ready to move.

This little stand off went on as I closed all the windows, drew all the curtains, wiped the tables and vacuumed the floors. The last stray blocks were now back on the shelf so all that was left to do was to park this last trike in the hallway, turn off the light and lock the door. All the other children had left and this last mama was definitely ready to go  but her little boy had other plans.

transitions for toddlers

Transitions sometimes are just so hard for toddlers.  Even harder when transitions are imposed by arbitrary things like the clock that says it’s 11am.

Anyways,  this very patient mama now walks up to her little boy and says “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.”  The boy tried kicking his mama’s shin but missed. A few tears welted in his eyes. He was sooo not ready to let go! With the attempted kick patience ran out too.

The mama offered up a smile to me but  it  clear she wasn’t happy. It was one of those moments we all have when our kid just isn’t doing what we  need them to do. I’ve been there, I’ve felt like that before. Sometimes we have places to go and things to do, and right in that moment our tot just can’t move…it can be challenging, ok really difficult and draining of all patience.  I smiled back hoping to extend some compassion and understanding.

The mama said “omg, please do help me….what am I supposed to do??? Why will he not move??”

“Why don’t we ask him?”  I replied.  “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.

“Do you feel upset about having to leave?” I added. “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 tigh grip was melting.  “I know you don’t want to go, so we can help each other leave. I’m also getting ready to go.”

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.

In our playgroup we often discuss ways to make parenting and life with little ones easier, less stressful and more enjoyable (we all want that as parents right?)  A big theme that keeps repeating itself is: understanding and empathy. It all ties in together because:

Children feel safe when they 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 listening or understanding 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 about communication, compassion and taking the time to find connection.

Transitions are often just so hard for toddlers but we can approach them in a positive way:

If we pause for a moment and let our children own what they are feeling “you seem upset”

If we honor where they are in that moment “you wish you could stay”

If we acknowledge honestly we have different plans “Hey, this  is not what you want to do.”

If we manage to find a reasonable choice that moves everyone towards a common goal  “I can help you park the trike or you can do it alone.”

What things do you find helps your toddler transition well?

Peace & Be Well,





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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

3 thoughts on “When Transitions Are Just So Hard for Toddlers

  • Libby

    Thanks for the article, it is a key reminder that the brain of a child is not fully developed until they are well into their early 20’s (The Whole Brain Child – Daniel J Siegel MD) so they need to feel as though they are being understood fist and foremost. Its not as easy as it appears however and takes A LOT of patience.

    • Libby, yes you are right it does take a LOT of patience. The Whole Brain Child is such a great book, thanks for mentioning it, I will add a link to that book in the post as it is a very great resource. thank you for stopping by.

  • You’ve touched on a very important topic here. I actually have an article written(not yet published,) that talks about children’s needs for structure and routine. It’s all quite similar to their feelings needing to be “valid.”

    Children don’t understand time and other common concepts that teenagers, young adults and adults understand. This makes it increasingly difficult to try and get them to understand something as simple as “it’s time go.”

    Thanks for such an insightful article 🙂

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