You did the counter-down, gave them TWO "last things", and yet, as you utter the words “Wave good-bye to the swing set” in a sing-song voice, your toddler screams “NO!” and bolts across the park. GAH!
Transitions are hard. Really hard.
If you have never taken the time to deep dive on the tricky world of Toddler Task Transitions (say that 3 times fast!), let me give you the Cliff notes: All humans, particularly young humans, can struggle with switching from one task to the next.
When the next task is boring (like sitting in a hot sticky car strapped into a 5-point harness) and the current one is exciting (like having mom get her arm-work out for the week in while you soar through the air on the swing) it makes sense that there can be some internal resistance!
But the struggle goes deeper than that.
Neuroscience and Super Highways
At 2 years old the human brain has more neural connections than it will ever have at any other point in its life. Think of each of these neural connections and pathways like roads that all intersect at various intersections - and at this developmental stage, there are billions and billions of them!
If a message needs to be sent from one part of the brain to another, it’s as if a mailman is picking up a letter and travelling through all of those roads to take it to it’s destination.
It’s going to take a long time, be pretty inconsistent, clunky and frustrating!
This is what happens in your toddlers little brain. Processing information is really inefficient! It takes a long time for their brain to switch from one task to another.
Over time, the pathways that don’t get used often get “pruned” - or essentially die off. This sounds a bit morbid, but what ends up happening is the ones that get used most become epic super highways with crazy fast cars! But, again, this is developmental and takes years to unfold.
But there's even more reasons toddler transitions are hard!
Toddlers and young kids also struggle to hold more than one thing in their conscious awareness at once. So, it’s really hard for them to imagine the next thing while they are in the current thing.
They also feel emotions “one at a time” (they do actually experience more than one at a time, but they are only ever really aware of one). So the anger or sadness they feel about leaving the park is going to cast a large shadow over any excitement they might feel about activities later on in the day.
And to top it all off, impulse control doesn’t even BEGIN to develop until about age 4 (and then again, it’s just beginning to develop. They have far from mastered it at this stage!) Which means that if they have a strong emotion, it’s going to result in an impulsive behaviour (like beelining it for the splash pad even though you just put on their only set of dry clothes.)
So what's a mom to do?!
I’ve been there. I’ve bought the visual timers, made the laminated visual schedules, and even paid a lot of money on occupational therapists and the like.
But, years ago I discovered the best mom hack I have ever stumbled upon for supporting kids through transitions.
I give you… The Scribble Schedule. It only requires a pen (or broken crayon, whatever you have nearby) and a piece of paper (or the backside of a water bottle label, I’m not judging), and about 15 seconds of your time.
Here is how to harness its mystical powers:
Ideally, in the morning at breakfast, you plan out your day with your kids highlighting the big events.
For each item, you draw a stick figure or symbol that your child will recognize represents that thing, and you make sure the items are in chronological order. (Bonus points if you write the word beside it, because literacy and all that).
Then repeat to your kids the order of things!
It’s really that simple.
Refer back to it throughout the day and watch how much easier it is to support your kids from moving from one task to the next.
The Scribble Schedule can also be used in-the-moment to support waiting for something exciting or for leaving an exciting thing like the park.
Just find a scrap paper and something to scribble with and map out the next events.
(This has saved me at holiday get togethers with extended family when there is unexpected waiting, or something the kids have been looking forward to gets delayed).
What gives the Scribble Schedule it’s mystical powers?!
Well, just like I explained above, kids have a hard time with abstract thought and holding 2 things in their mind at once. When you put those 2 things down on paper, side by side, they can see them together!
It supports your kids in feeling empowered through transitions. They are part of the process. The aren’t a victim to their parents schedule, but a participant! They are watching the schedule be made, and they can even hold it and carry it around with them!
It also helps activate the thinking/logic parts of their brains which supports them in being a little less impulsive.
Lastly, it’s a really connecting activity. You are on their level, talking with just them, planning together. Fills up that connection, love bucket!
When you buy a premade visual schedule, pieces get lost, their aren’t always options for the activities you have planned, sometimes you can’t change up the order if the day is different than usual AND it’s often expected that the child will be independent with using them (which is incredibly unrealistic for a toddler).
But the Scribble Schedule avoids all of those pitfalls and costs ZERO money!
Lastly, the Scribble Schedule is INCREDIBLE for setting boundaries when breastfeeding toddlers!
When your toddler wants to breastfeed at the park, meet the underlying need AND let them know in concrete terms when they can breastfeed again. If you are cutting out night time feeds, add breastfeeding after wake up on a Scribble Schedule and let your kiddo sleep with the piece of paper so they can remember. I hope you enjoy this genius mom-hack that has saved my sanity time and time again. Also if you are looking to make some changes in your extended breastfeeding relationship, don't forget to snag my free guide & cheat sheet: Making Changes: Say "No" to the feed while saying "Yes" to the need!