How to Handle Toddler Transitions
Helping kids say goodbye to their bottle, binky, crib, and more
Toothpaste—A Food Group?
Before your baby sprouts his first tooth you should begin a tooth-brushing routine by wiping his gums with a wet washcloth each day, and by the time he’s 2, twice-a-day brushing should be the norm. Although toddlers are not the most efficient cleaners, allow your child to put the toothpaste on the brush and do his best at brushing, then spit (or swallow) and rinse his toothbrush. Giving him the responsibility of being a big person will make this activity less of a chore and may make him more willing to open up for you to get a few swipes in at the end. Don’t let your little one use whitening toothpastes, as they could sting his mouth, and don’t let him swallow more than a tiny drop of children’s toothpaste since too much fluoride can cause white spots on kid’s teeth, a condition known as fluorosis.
True Life Tale: My kids think brushing their teeth is so much fun that they’ll spend 10 minutes doing it. (Getting the flip-top off the toothpaste tube takes up a nice chunk of that time.) That gives me time to put on makeup and dry my hair in the mirror right behind them as I supervise their valiant attempts at dental hygiene.
Yay for Booster Seats
Booster seats are fabulous. Not only are they so cheap (between $15 and $50) that you can have an extra for Dad’s car, plus another spare for carpooling and play dates, but they’re also so light and portable that swapping them from car to car is a breeze. Add in the fact that boosters don’t come with complicated installation instructions or require a fireman with a protractor and level to put in correctly, and that your child can actually get into the car and buckle herself into the booster with no help from you, and you can see why it’s a day of celebration when your child is ready to move into one.
While booster seat laws vary by state, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that a booster seat “is typically recommended for children who are 4 to 8 years old or who weigh at least 40 pounds and are up to 4 feet, 9 inches tall.” Although most children fall under these guidelines, larger kids who hit the 40-pound threshold before age 4 may move into a booster seat at an earlier age, but if a child weighs 40 pounds and can still comfortably fit into his five-point-restraint car seat, keep him there until the straps don’t fit anymore.
And just because a child turns 4 doesn’t automatically mean a switch to a booster: Children must reach the state’s mandated weight level to say goodbye to their car seats. A petite 6-year-old who doesn’t weigh enough must remain in her car seat until she’s physically big enough to move up. If you’re not sure of the law in your state, call your local police department or highway patrol office for the facts. Remember that children in a booster must use a shoulder belt—never just a lap belt—and all children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
True Life Tale: Not only are boosters seats cheap and easy to install, they’re a cinch to clean too. Unlike complicated car seats with straps, latches, harnesses, and various hard-to-clean doohickeys, boosters usually just have a simple seat cover that you can toss in the washing machine whenever it starts looking grungy.
There’s something bittersweet about sending your child off to preschool or even kindergarten for the first time: you’re thrilled about the prospect of a few hours of adult time, but you miss your little buddy to pieces and can’t imagine that your sweet baby is actually ready for backpacks, lunch boxes, and group naptime. Whether your child begins daycare at 6 weeks or preschool at 3 years, the key to a smooth transition is consistency.
Tina Locke, co-owner of Step Forward Day School, an award-winning preschool in Franklin, Tennessee, says, “Children learn that whether they cry for a minute or jump right in and play, Mom goes home … and comes back a few hours later.”
Locke says that parents’ attitudes are the number one influence on a child’s attitude about school. “Instead of saying, ‘You are so lucky because you get to go to school, learn all sorts of new things, make friends, and play with toys,’ you’ve got some parents who actually bribe children with toys if they go to school!” Locke says. She adds that if parents give their kids a quick kiss and wave goodbye at the door (rather than lingering around the classroom and making it difficult for teachers to bond with the children), the majority of preschoolers will happily adjust after just a few visits. “I’ve never had a child have a problem after three weeks,” Locke says. The upshot here is that with a consistent and brief goodbye routine and a sunny attitude, your little one will be singing new songs, talking about new friends, and bringing home stacks of fantastic noodle artwork in no time!
True Life Tale: Babysitters and preschool teachers will all tell you that the second time is the hardest. The first day of school is such of whirlwind of new people and activities that kids don’t really have time to miss Mommy. By the second or third morning, kids realize that Mom is leaving again and things can get teary. This happened to both my daughters when they began attending preschool at age two. Most teachers are willing to give you a quick phone report 10 minutes later to let you know that all’s well and your little one is happily finger painting with the rest of the class.
Timing is Everything
Before you decide to embark on a big change in your child’s life because “all the books” and your pediatrician say the time is right, remember that every child is different, and apart from car seat laws, the rest of the recommendations are exactly that—recommendations. They are suggestions based on past experience and the abilities of the average child. So just because your neighbor’s son is moving into a big kid bed doesn’t mean your child is ready right now. And just because the books say most children brush their own teeth by age 3, doesn’t mean your precocious youngest child won’t pick up the habit earlier by watching older siblings. So use your best parenting instincts to decide when to jump into these exciting toddler transitions … and have fun!
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
As recently as the 1980s it was believed that babies didn’t feel pain, so they were subjected to procedures ranging from circumcision to open-heart-surgery without anesthesia. Of course that seems barbaric to parents today, but what about the current conventional wisdom that it’s somehow easier for young children to adapt to overwhelming life changes than it is for adults? Because they have no choice in the matter, children do indeed adapt readily to the whims of their parents and pediatricians, but having the rug pulled out from under you every few months can make the most agreeable soul angry and resentful: It’s no wonder toddlers have tantrums!
Your role as a parent isn’t just to follow the current guidelines regarding pacifiers and sippy cups, it includes helping coach your little one to success. You may have to play the heavy, but try to maintain a soft heart while you do it. That means extra cuddle time every day during a big transition period and occasionally fudging the recommended timelines if your little one is traumatized by the shift or simply not ready to handle the responsibility.
Just remember—whether you jump headfirst into these changes or ignore the timelines and do what works for your family, no one goes off to college with a baby bottle and nobody walks down the aisle with a pacifier. No matter what we do, our babies are destined to become big kids, so hang on for the ride!
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