Young children naturally have a difficult time making transitions from one activity to another. They get so involved in the process of playing, doing or simply being in the moment that it is seemingly impossible to tear them away to move on to the next activity.
Whether it's stopping play for a meal, leaving home in the morning, leaving child care in the afternoon or the hardest of hard transition — leaving the playground or park — transitions are difficult for toddlers.
These three strategies will lessen the frustrations for both you and your child.
1. Practice. This is best accomplished in the spirit of play. Start with a play scenario—you'll have to figure out how to work it in to their play. It could be playing a super hero scene…..maybe when his Mommy calls him/her to come to the table. It could be in drawing a picture and talking about when it's time to leave your friend's house to go home. It could be actually play-acting time-to-go. Whatever is your child's preferred mode of play---use it to practice transitions and talk about how hard it is to move to the next task. Practice stopping and moving until it's easier. The best lessons can be learned in fun.
2. Prepare. Make sure to explain your expectations. For example, 'After nap time, I will come and pick you up from school. When you see me at the door, I'd like you to put your things away and come hug me. Then we'll go home.' Or at the park 'You can play for a little while, but when I tell you it's time to go, I want you to take my hand and come to the car.' It's also important to give your child a choice in the matter. Ask if he'd like to leave now or in 5 minutes. When 5 minutes is up, praise him for choosing on his own and leave. Give more choices on the way out, such as 'Do you want to walk or run to the car? Do you want me to go first or you? Do you want me to carry you or sit in the stroller? Do you want to get in your car seat alone or have help?'
3. Action. If you said it's time to go and you expect him to move, be close by to take his hand gently and help him make that transition. If he tries to run, remain calm. Your reaction of frustration or yelling will not help the situation. Start walking to your car and challenge him to beat you there. You this situation as an example the next time you go to the park. 'I can't wait to get to the park. It will be fun to run, swing, climb. But I remember last time we were here. I couldn't get you to leave when it was time.' Use this when setting up your expectations.■
Jeanne Labana of Milwaukee has been an educator for more than 25 years.