How to Handle Toddler Transitions
Helping kids say goodbye to their bottle, binky, crib, and more
There’s no doubt about it: when you’re young you have to be flexible, willing to adapt in this constantly changing world. Doing things the same old way each day is for old folks … you know, like 4-year-olds. That’s right. By the time a child turns 4, he’ll have most likely experienced such monumental lifestyle changes as giving up the pacifier he adores and moving from the cozy comfort of his crib to the vast expanse of a big kid bed. Many kids will have left home already and gone off to preschool, while others will graduate from a hulking car seat to a sleek little booster.
As young and innocent as they are, toddlers are masters of adaptation. Can you imagine starting a new job, changing cars, having your bed removed, and doing it all while attempting to quit a calming habit like snacking, drinking coffee, or chewing gum? When you put things in perspective, it’s clear that the sheer number of toddler transitions can be overwhelming for little ones and parents alike. The good news is that kids jump most of the hurdles with relative ease, but it can take a combination of empathy and ingenuity on their parents’ part to complete the metamorphosis from baby to little kid.
Bye Bye Bottle
The first big transition is usually the one from bottle to drinking from a cup. Pediatrician Dr. Jon Betts of Old Harding Pediatrics in Nashville, Tennessee, recommends that parents weaning a child from the bottle at the one-year mark. “Moving from a bottle to a sippy cup is important because it reduces the incidence of cavities caused by bottle use particularly in the crib, and it also helps promote good dental alignment,” he says.
A good way to get your child used to a sippy cup is to let him play with one filled with water from the time he can hold onto it—between months 4 and 6. He’ll probably drop it, bang it on the floor, and use it as a toy, but eventually he’ll put the right part in his mouth and take a sip. (A few demonstrations with exaggerated “Yum, Yum!” reactions from Mom help out here.) From then on, a cup filled with water should be his constant companion and available whenever he’s seated for a meal.
Eventually, you’ll start substituting the cup for his bottle at feeding times. If you replace the bottle with a cup for a new feeding time each week, you can complete the transition in just over a month. Many experts recommend trying the cup at your child’s least favorite feeding, so he’s not frustrated or hungry if things don’t go smoothly the first few times. I found the opposite to be true and introduced the sippy for the first feeding of the morning, when my kids were really hungry and didn’t care if I was offering them a rusty bucket to drink from as long as they got 8 ounces of warm milk from somewhere.
That cozy nighttime bottle is often the hardest for both Mom and her baby to let go, but you can still snuggle your little one and even hold the cup for him for the same effect. If your child violently opposes the cup and longs for the sucking pleasure of a bottle, try giving him one with water in it. Put the yummy, satisfying milk in the cup and offer both of them for a few days to see if he makes the switch on his own terms.
True Life Tale: My little brother was the fourth and last child in the family. He drank from a bottle until he was nearly in kindergarten! The kid would come home from soccer practice and plop down on the couch guzzling a baby bottle of orange juice. That stubborn toddler is now a handsome, successful doctor with no ill effects from my parents’ indulgence of their youngest one.
Asking some children to give up a pacifier is like getting an adult to quit smoking. Oral gratification is an instinctive human relaxation behavior that calms everyone from thumb-sucking fetuses to gum smacking colleagues. Smoking, pencil chewing, and snacking are all iterations of this self-soothing technique. It’s a tough behavior to change, but pacifiers can be a costly habit in the form of orthodontic bills later on.
According to the American Dental Association, “Children who continue to use pacifiers past the age of three show a higher prevalence of altered dental arches and abnormal lip and cheek mobility compared to those who never used a pacifier.” After 18 years of pediatric dentistry, Dr. David Snodgrass, DDS, recommends ditching the binky between 14 and 16 months of age, “We’ve found that the best way to get the children off the pacifier is to simply place every one of them in the house in a plastic freezer bag, shake them in front of the child, and tell them they are going to take them to their pediatrician (or Dr. Snodgrass) so he can give them to the little babies at the hospital. The next time the child asks for them, blame it on me.”
Other parents recommend trading the old pacifiers in for a brand new toy or throwing a Pacifier Party complete with cupcakes and streamers to say goodbye to their dear old friends. Another way is to gradually cut back on the nipple size by snipping a little off each week. This worked like a charm for my kids because they still got to hold their precious pacifiers—nothing was taken from them—they just couldn’t seem to keep them in their mouths for more than a minute because the suction breaks when your snip off the tip. It’s almost the same as someone tuning your television to only broadcast the weather channel: you still have a TV and it still works, but it’s so boring that you quit watching it after a few minutes!
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