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Just Give me 5 Minutes: Toddlers Transitions within the Daily Routine

Kathleen Tuite


Tuesday 09 August 2016

Have you ever heard a toddler say ‘I’m right in the middle of something, just give me 5 minutes’?

In early childhood settings we recognise that toddlers are capable and competent, with interests, emerging interests and needs all of their own. They experience many changes throughout their lives, some small, some big and learning to manage these in childhood is an important foundation for later life. Toddlers move in, move up, move through and move out of lots of situations, often guided by family, culture, policies and procedures and learning to manage transitions/changes is an important skill that all children require for emotional and physical well-being throughout their lives.


Early childhood settings create lots of possibilities for children to cope with change and to learn how to manage themselves through change. Daily routines, which provide structure (without clock watching), predictability, lots of flexibility and playfulness can support toddlers cope with transitions and change. Care routines are necessary and form a large part of a toddlers’ day, from nappy changing, meal/snack times, to sleep and rest. Carrying these out involves transitions for the toddler, having to leave something they were interested in to have perhaps a nappy changed, otherwise their day would be free of interruptions. For some toddlers these represent small or big interruptions to their day and there are different displays of emotion.

What would you say as an educator when you approach a toddler looking to change her nappy and she replies - ‘I’m right in the middle of something, just give me 5 minutes’? You might be very surprised to hear this, but it would also tell you something about toddlers, that they need time to process and adjust to change. Toddlers may not have the words to say this, but when we are tuned in, we will know by their non-verbal cues that this is exactly what they want to say! Creating a predictable environment, such as naming your own actions, ‘I’m coming over to you now Harry to change your nappy in a few minutes’ and waiting for a few moments until they absorb what you have said, helps the toddler to prepare for change. Employing some playful actions, use of transitional objects (like puppets, timers), some fancy footwork, dancing over to the toddler or singing a little song, lets them know that a change is about to happen and creates predictability too.

Any of the transition times within the day can be handled by toddlers, firstly knowing there is some level of predictability, having adequate time to prepare for a move and minimising waiting times when a change is indicated. Naming their feelings connected with the action, I know you feel a little ‘frustrated’ now because I have to bring you in to change your nappy. All these processes help the young child to cope with change and to manage their feelings in the early years, laying foundations for the future.

Through well planned, flexible, yet predictable routines toddlers can be supported and empowered to develop resilience, cope with frustrations and develop positive attitudes towards change. Backed up by adults, who spend a lot of time getting to know the child, paying attention to what the child is feeling, noticing and doing.

How do you support toddlers to cope with change throughout the daily routine? Have you ever counted the number of transitions toddlers have during the day? How do you ensure a routine that is highly flexible, but gives the security that a predicable routine should have? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. 

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