Transition Tips for your Tots


Toddlers and preschoolers can sometimes make a big fuss when it’s time to transition from one activity or routine to another. For example, when they are told that it’s time for them to stop playing, leave the playground or to take a nap or go to bed. Sound familiar? This is your toddler possibly wanting to assert some independence, or they may be tired or hungry. In some cases some children may have other reasons that they have trouble with transitions (see my post “Is it a temper tantrum or...?”).

A good way to ease those transitions throughout the day is to inform them what will be ENDING and what’s coming up NEXT; that’s an important life skill as we start to teach them time management in their routines and it also gives children a sense of security when they know what the expectations are. First, tell your child in a calm voice that soon it will be time to clean up but you are giving them 5 more minutes to play before that happens. For example: “George, we will have 5 more minutes to play and then it’s time to sing the clean up song and take a nap (or eat lunch, etc).“ Or, you can use a bell or a timer: “When the bell rings it’s time to clean up and have some lunch.” Use what works for you but make it consistent. Some children respond to a tangible item or a visual tool to help them transition (see video below of a cute example of a train that you can make at home or modify for your needs. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Some dollar stores sell sheets of laminating paper so you can make it more durable).

You can also use real objects to symbolize transitions, such as by handing your child a rubber duck or bath toy to signify bath time, or a teddy bear to to indicate it is bedtime. It also helps sometimes to have something they like to do to help them transition (ex: a fun book or a quick snack before a nap), depending on the situation. And sometimes it helps to talk about the fun thing they will do AFTER they wake up from the nap.

CLEANING UP. It’s never too early to teach a child to clean up. It’s a helpful skill at home which teaches responsibility and it will also help your child ease into that expectation once they start school. *Remember the 5 minute warning!*

Here are some clean up tips and tricks that worked well with my kids as they were growing up: Make it a game. Clean up together while singing the clean up song or by playing a fun and upbeat song: “Let’s see if we can get all the Legos in before the song ends”; or “Let’s see how fast we can get the matchbox cars in the bucket..ready, set, go!” ; or, “Let’s drive all the cars into the bin“; or “The dolls or animals are all so sleepy, let’s put them to bed“; or, Do a countdown from 20 :“Let’s see if you can have it all cleaned up by the time I get to zero.” Eventually your child will learn how to clean up themselves or with their siblings. You can also give your child an expectation or a condition: “Once the toys are cleaned up, we will go out to play” (or eat a snack, or take a bath,etc), in other words, the next fun thing doesn’t happen until this task is complete. Whatever you do, phrase your expectation in a STATEMENT. Don’t ask them if they will clean up because the answer may very well be a “NO.” If your child is still resistant, you can say: ”We are cleaning up; would you like to start with the puzzles or the books?” This way you are giving them a choice of WHAT to clean up, not IF they are going to clean up. If all else fails, keep calmly holding your ground and hand-over their hand you will “help” your child’s hand to pick up the toys as you sing the clean up song.

Good luck!


Valerie Cundiff, M.S. SLP (R)

Registered Speech Language Pathologist with the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professions of BC (CSHBC)




office: 354 Tempe Crescent, North Vancouver, BC V7N1E6

phone: 778 867-0395

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