How to Handle Toddler Transitions
Helping kids say goodbye to their bottle, binky, crib, and more
Big Kid Beds
If ditching the pacifier is traumatic for kids, taking down the crib is equally distressing for parents. Something about a crib just says “sweet little baby,” but a bed screams “BIG KID!” I’ve seen 4-year-olds who still sleep in cribs because their parents claim that, “She’s just not ready yet.” Kind of makes you wonder exactly who’s not ready.
While there’s no perfect time to shop for new furniture, situations like the imminent arrival of a little sibling or a child who’s learned to climb out of her crib are good reasons to make the switch. Some folks advocate setting up the new bed in the child’s room along with the crib and letting Junior try taking his naps on the bed for a week to get used to the idea before going all the way. When I was a few weeks from my due date with our second baby, we tried the cold turkey method of talking up the big girl bed for a week, buying a butterfly comforter with fancy new sheets, and generally making the whole project sound as exciting as Christmas morning at Disneyland. Our 23-month-old daughter jumped in her new bed on the first night and never looked back.
No matter how you make the transition, make sure you put guard rails on any open sides and a waterproof mattress pad under the sheets. If you’re concerned about your little wanderer getting up at night and roaming the house, put a safety gate across her doorway or a childproof door handle cover on the inside of her bedroom door (so you can get in, but she can’t get out).
Betts advises, “If kids climb the gate and refuse to stay in their room, I suggest that a parent sit on the floor outside the gate to get the child to sleep and then move them to their bed after they are asleep. After several nights of this, most kids will begin to settle themselves down without their parents present.”
True Life Tale: Our daughter went missing on the second day in her new bed. Although we put a lock inside her room, she was nowhere to be found in the morning. We frantically searched the house, imagining her scared, hurt, and alone. She turned up fast asleep under a pile of stuffed animals in the corner of her room!
Heaving the High Chair
As is the case with many toddler transitions, your child will often send out clear signals that he’s ready for a change. Dr. Betts agrees, “I think the transition from a high chair to a booster seat or regular chair depends less on age and more on a child’s size and when he or she can sit at the table without constantly wanting to get up and down.”
If your daughter successfully behaves in a booster seat at a restaurant or friend’s house when no high chair is available or starts refusing her high chair and clamoring up into a chair like Mom and Dad, give it a try. Some clever kids figure out how to undo their straps or kick the tray off with their feet—a sure sign that they’re ready to graduate to the big table.
If your child is large for his age, stuffing him into that little seat locked down with a big tray is tantamount to torture after his second birthday, so a change is in order! Although many children will test their new freedom by leaving the table and roaming the room during meals, resist the temptation to strap them down again, especially since that idea will most likely be met with resistance by your budding big kid. Instead, calmly return your freedom fighter to her chair and say, “If you want to eat, stay in your seat.” Sacrificing food in favor of exploring the kitchen will become boring after a few nights, and her hunger will most likely lead her back to her chair to eat like the grownups.
True Life Tale: We’ve never used a high chair. Much like a toddler bed, which is just a crib with smaller rails—kind of redundant—high chairs are basically bulky, difficult-to-wash booster seats on stilts. Our babies went straight into a $20, portable, lightweight booster seat with a tray that was removed at about 18 months when we just pushed them up to the table.
The Fork on the Floor
While it’s usually a joyous day when the baby starts picking up her own food and freeing up Mom and Dad to enjoy their own meals, don’t get used to it just yet because things are about to get crazy again. Dr. Betts says, “Children usually show interest in using a fork or spoon by 12 to 15 months of age, but do not fully grasp the skill until 18 months or so.”
Signs of readiness include your child attempting to grab the spoon when you bring it to her mouth or asking for her own utensils. Begin by investing in a few sets of toddler silverware which tend to feature short rubber handles for easy gripping, spoons with a nice deep dish for secure scooping, and forks with rounded tines to prevent accidental eye pokes. Your little one might want to mimic your adult eating behavior right away but could also get bored after a few bites or frustrated that she can’t get as much food as quickly as she can with her hands. Don’t worry if she abandons the utensils for a time; just keep encouraging her to use them when she forgets and help scoop or spear food for her to lift to her mouth for difficult dishes like pasta or rice. By the time she’s around age 3, you can start insisting that she use a fork full-time, although your help may still come in handy every now and then.
True Life Tale: My 18-month-old had us convinced that she lacked the manual dexterity to use a fork for most meals. She’d vainly attempt to jab meat, only to have it shoot across the plate, vegetables would fall away before reaching her mouth. We helped feed her in our delusional fear that she’d starve without us … until we saw her in action at a birthday party. That little faker was able to use her fork to cut bite-sized pieces from her slice of cake and get every last crumb to her mouth … ice cream, too! From then on we knew that her dinnertime helplessness was her way of retaining her babyhood and getting one-on-one attention from Mom and Dad, which we happily supplied in other ways … after she ate her dinner!
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