A Simple Trick for Helping Toddlers Transition Between Activities

A Simple Trick for Helping Kids Transition Between Activities Getting a toddler out the door to go to daycare, preschool, the grocery store, wherever is no easy feat. Same goes for getting them upstairs for a bath or to the table for lunch—and let’s not even get started on bedtime!

They’re always too engrossed in racing their cars or having too much fun playing dress up to care one iota about the fact that you’re already running late or that their food is getting cold.

And did I mention they’re the little kings and queens of stall tactics?

We recently started noticing that one of the only times my 2-year-old would throw a tantrum was when we insisted it was time to transition to a new activity and he had absolutely zero interest in doing so.

I can’t say I blamed him—what toddler wants to stop decorating the dishwasher with magnets for something as mundane as bathing or eating or running errands? 

But even so, baths must be taken, food must be eaten, and errands must be run.

So a few weeks ago we started implementing this little trick for helping toddlers transition between activities, and it has made a world of difference in our home!

A Simple Trick for Helping Toddlers Transition Between Activities—Use a Timer!

Part of the issue, I discovered, was that we were often saying things like:

“You have two more minutes to play before we need to sit down and eat.”

“Half an hour until bedtime!”

“Hurry up, we’re already running ten minutes late.”

Which all mean exactly ZILCH to the 2 and 3-year-old set, who, you know, can’t tell time yet.

So we invested in this helpful little timer, which not only keeps track of how much time is left before we need to transition to a new activity, but also gives my son a visual cue of just how much time it is—a lot or a little.

Timer for Kids

My son grasped the concept very quickly, and almost immediately our experience with transitions improved.

I think it works partially because the act of setting the timer serves as a warning that a transition is coming up soon, and partially because he likes that it’s his timer. These days he actually asks us to set it—”You set my timer please, Mommy?” he’ll request before we head to the basement to play for a few minutes before lunch—or he’ll practice his numbers while he sets it himself!

Here are some timers to check out. The first is the one we use, but there are lots of other kid-friendly options!

Time Timer, 3 Inch (other sizes available, too)

Learning Resources Time Tracker Mini 

Datexx The Miracle Cube Timer 

Stoplight Golight Timer


One important caveat: The effectiveness of this strategy (like most parenting tips) is highly dependent on your child’s unique personality. My toddler already seems pretty Type-A—a chip off the old block, I guess!—so he thrives on this sort of thing.

But some children respond to timers with anger, anxiety, or frustration, so keep that in mind and stop using it if it’s not helping. The phrase “Know Thy Child” is as applicable here as it always is.

Do/did your young kids find it tough to transition between activities? 

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16 responses to “A Simple Trick for Helping Toddlers Transition Between Activities”

  1. That’s a cool timer! I’ve done that, but always just using the timer on my phone. At first it worked well but now my son is almost 5 and he knows what I’m up to. Even when I’m just giving a heads up like “we have about 30 minutes left to play before bedtime,” he totally freaks out like we’re stopping playing right away. Maybe the visual timer would help him realize that’s a lot of time to play!

  2. Those are some great timers to help a kid understand how much time is left! Much better than measuring time in Dora the Explorers, like we did when my oldest was little. 😉

  3. As a principal, the referrals I got the most were from children who couldn’t make a transition. There are some darling online countdown clocks, too.

  4. What a great idea. My Hubby actually started setting the timer on the microwave and when they hear the beep they know it’s time to move on but I think I like the idea of the timers too. Thanks for sharing – pinned & shared 🙂

  5. I love the traffic light – my son would EAT THAT UP – well – not literally… but I think it would really work well for him.

  6. Yup, we use a timer! Except we just use the good ol’ timer on the microwave (because dang that thing is loud!). This helps especially since we started letting the kids watch television, and it’s really hard to explain that yes, 30 minutes really DID pass already.

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