“Not the Carseat Again!”–The Importance of Transitions

by Laura on February 20, 2012

Young children naturally need transitions from one activity to another, especially when they don’t want to either leave the activity they are a part of, or don’t want to participate in the new activity.  For example, a 2 year old will not be happily eating dinner and then willingly be plopped straight into bed.  Every mom knows you have to have your bedtime rituals to signal it is time for bed and help prepare your child.

Grumpy face

"I don't want to do that anymore..."


Using the same transition technique while on vacations really helps with the constant changes in activity.   So, here’s 8 transition ideas to sock away!  Use for the next time your child needs extra help getting back into their carseat again and again and again on a long road trip, needs to relax and calm for sleeping or after being upset, or needs to wait a few extra minutes before you can get off that airplane.


1.  Have a few songs ready to put to good use.  Fingerplays and short songs can be a lifesaver in a pinch.  Have some new songs to peak instant curiosity.  My oldest daughter loved learning songs so much, she earned the nickname, “radio girl”  because she could sing a whole variety of songs.

2.  Grab a toddler or baby’s attention with a dramatic change in your actions and voice.  “Ahh!  Look what’s about to happen! We are going to find the special door to get on the plane.”  or “Oh wow!  What a special place we get to explore.  Let’s go on a short walk.”  Ham it up and make it exciting.  Your child will eat it up.

3.  Have a favorite stuffed animal ready to go.  When getting out of the car, leave the animal on the carseat so it will be “waiting when we get back.”  Remind your child of the animal as you are approaching the car again.  On the plane, use it as the incentive to find your seat and then “we can bring it out.”

4.  Prepare children for what will happen throughout that day.  Preparation helps young children know what to expect and look forward to the changes ahead.  The amount of detail depends on the age of your little travelers.  For preschoolers, give a little more detail, “We are going to be driving all day.  We will have a movie, a few stops along the way, and then we’ll be at our hotel.  We’ll get to have lots of fun with your special toys we are bringing.”  Toddlers need details for smaller periods of time, “We are going to find where our plane is parked.  Then, we can get a snack.”  Later on, “Now let’s go change your diaper and then we can get on the plane.”

Preparation also readies children for events which might feel scary because of the unknown.  Talking to your child ahead of time helps to reassure them of what will happen.  Ex: “The plane is going to go very fast, like a rocket.  Let’s see if it makes our tummies feel silly.” Motions also help convey that preparation.  Even younger toddlers and older babies can learn baby sign for an airplane along with some cool sound effects {snicker}.

5.  Ask your child for ideas.  For example, on the way back to the car, announce that it’s time to keep traveling on your trip {preparation tip here!}.  Then, ask “What fun activity should you do next when we start driving?”  or “This is a long line to get off the plane, what should we do while we are waiting?”

For bedtime while still traveling to your next stop, “What would be a good idea to get ready to sleep?”

6.  Make the transition itself fun.  Ride on daddy’s shoulders back to the car, hop like a bunny holding mommy’s hand, look for birds while you wait for the rental bus, etc.

7.  Use music.  Music can bring out happy thoughts and more excitement, or calm, relaxed motions.  Have a variety you can pull from for different situations.

8.  Give your child a job as you transition to the next activity.  For example, as you approach the car door for the 10th time of rebuckling into the carseat, ask your child to be the “door opener” for each person getting in the car, or the “snack helper” to the family.


Remember, young children really do need transitions from one activity to another, especially during vacations.  These small things help everyone have a smoother, happier time.  Any other transition ideas that work well for your family?

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