Family Life Advice

Parenting the Preschooler: Tackling Transitions

Moving from one thing to another can be a challenge for kids. Here are some tips to make it easier

Yia Lor / Eau Claire County Extension |

BUT I DON’T WANNA GO! Transitioning from one activity or place to another can be a big challenge for children. But some approaches can make it smoother.
BUT I DON’T WANNA GO! Transitioning from one activity or place to another can be a big challenge for children. But some approaches can make it smoother.

Most children have difficulty with transitions at some point in early childhood. Transitions are the changes, moves, or passages from one activity to another. They can also be from one place to another. By establishing routines, adults can help young children make smoother transitions. If children know what to expect, it may be easier to switch gears.

Tips for Adults

  • Identify transitions in a child’s life by structuring the day. Minimize the number of transitions and make them manageable for the child. 
  • Always tell the child that you are leaving and that you will be back. It is best to not sneak away.
  • Avoid giving the child a time frame. At this age, children do not understand the concept of time. Instead of saying, “I’ll see you in two hours,” consider something like, “I will see you after nap time.”
  • Prepare children by letting them know what, when, and where the transitions will happen. You might say, “We will read one more story, and then it is time to get ready for bed.”
  • To help ease a child’s reaction to the transition, acknowledge and validate their feelings. “It is hard to leave Grandma’s house, and it’s OK to feel sad about it. Can I help you find Grandma to give her a hug goodbye?” 
  • Develop a ritual when it is time to transition. For example, have the child say goodbye to their favorite swing when it is time to leave the park. 

Security Blankets & Beyond

Does your child use a transitional object? These can include security blankets, teddy bears, or favorite toys, and they provide a child comfort during times of uncertainty. Children can vary greatly in their ability to handle transitions and their need for transitional objects. Here are a few things to consider about security blankets and other objects. 

  • Experts suggest allowing children to let go of the object in their own time. Taking away this object could result in attachment insecurities later in life. 
  • Try not to praise the child’s independence or remove the object from their possessions. It is important for a child to have their security blanket or other object around and to say goodbye to it when they are ready. 
  • If a child is ready to phase out the transitional object, use a gradual approach. Increase the amount of time that the item is out of reach. 
  • If the item is lost, show the child that you understand their loss. Start by telling the child that you feel sad about it too. Ask the child if they have ideas of what they might like to have in place. 

Sometimes it is difficult for adults to understand the significance of the transitional object. However, it is important to view the object as a sign of a child’s resilience. They are learning to cope with difficult transitions. If your child currently uses a transitional object, be supportive and remember that these items are common with many children and are a natural part of growing up.

Adapted from “Parenting the Preschooler: Transitions & Security Blankets” from the UW-Madison Division of Extension. Visit for references and more information.