Transitions and Tantrums

Month 26
Month 28
Month 30

Last Month's Wow:

The Power of Comparison

Learning about comparisons and polarities—big/little, long/short, more/less, first/last—is a big jump toward mature executive functions. Notice the connection between two-word phrases and comparisons.

The Wow of Now:

Transitions and Tantrums

Baby's “now” brain is gradually morphing into a “now-and-then” brain. Conceptualizing the idea of “later” means baby is learning about waiting. Sometimes, transitioning out of something they want to be doing before they are ready can cause frustration.

The Wow Ahead:

When to Potty Train

Understanding that feelings can be comfortable or uncomfortable unlocks the world of “interoception” (paying attention to what’s going on inside you). Included in interoception is recognizing the feelings and sensations associated with toileting.

The Wow

Being able to let go of one thing and to wait, patiently, for another is an incredibly complex and important skill. (One that many adults still struggle with.) Being able to handle transitions promotes future success in classroom settings, reduces conflicts with adults and peers, and builds greater flexibility and, yes, flow! 
Up until now, baby has existed in “survival brain”—where the choices are now or not now. The big WOW here is the concept of later. Baby learning to wait or to pause something they are enjoying relies on their ability to imagine a future. Just like way back up stream, when baby began navigating space, and the idea of the ball behind the chair was linked to separation anxiety, they are now learning to imagine time in the same way. So, fittingly, transitions can trigger similar anxieties, resistance, and frustrations. 
Baby’s day is filled with mini transitions, from getting out the door or cleaning up after playtime, to taking naps or going to bed for the night. Little ones can struggle with having to stop what they are doing to do something else. Transitions call on the executive function skills we’ve talked about before—visualizing, working memory,  inhibitory control, and attention—to challenge baby’s powerful feelings of independence and exploration, which can lead to an increase in tantrums.

The How

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    Feelings are Like the Weather

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    Feelings are an expression of change. Tantrums happen when baby has strong feelings that rise up much like a storm. Understanding that feelings come and go, and that there’s no such thing as good or bad feelings (only comfortable and uncomfortable feelings), keeps emotions embodied and avoids shame. Explaining that “sad” and “mad” are not “bad” prevents the suppression of feelings and encourages heartfelt communication, one of the keys to emotional regulation.

    Helping them notice how, just like the weather, feelings are constantly changing, is a powerful mindfulness exercise they’ll use well into adulthood. Because your toddler is good at comparing, instead of “are you feeling bad?” try asking “are you feeling comfortable or uncomfortable?” and notice a shift toward a more nuanced understanding of what they’re experiencing. Localizing emotions within the body makes it easier to practice releasing them without the burden of shame.


    Classifying a child’s feelings as “good” or “bad” can cause them to shut down any expression of emotions, which inevitably leads to blow ups. Children who learn that negative feelings are “wrong” can end up with problems tolerating discomfort or with self-soothing later on. Learning that feelings come and go, like rain or snow, can help baby to handle moments of discomfort and distress more effectively.

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    Routines and Flow Charts

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    There are several ways to help baby successfully manage transitions.

    Number one, always, is to have a consistent daily routine. But life is unpredictable, and learning how to roll with change is part of being resilient.

    Another powerful tool is reminders. Since babies don't have a good sense of time, try using physical reminders, like timers or alarms, to help them understand when it’s time to wrap up. Ask them to set the timer for five more minutes of play and that the game is over as soon as it rings.

    Make a flowchart of routines using pictures and arrows connecting various activities. Use your Healthybaby routines to support you - like a bath, then massage, then diaper, pajamas, books and bed. The visual aids can help baby stay in the flow during daily transitions, like getting out of the house or getting ready for bedtime. After explaining the flow chart, intermittently ask them to pinpoint where in the flow we are now. When they get it right, high five them and follow up by asking what comes next.

    Knowing how challenging transitions can be for baby, keep your empathy (and patience) levels high; it can feel unsettling to feel rushed.


    When babies know what comes next, day after day, they begin to anticipate events and regulate themselves accordingly. This is the secret to healthy confidence.

Support for You

Your baby is getting better and better at managing everyday tasks. This is great news for their development. They can understand more, say more, and do more for themselves, and for others. Whenever possible, allow them to do for themselves what they can do, give them just enough support for what they can almost do, and model what they cannot yet do. Autonomy-supporting parenting allows baby to develop confidence in their abilities through experimentation and responsibility. This isn’t about perfection. They need to know that YOU have confidence in THEM.

Let's Check on the Basics

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Is baby eating?
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Is baby sleeping?
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Is baby pooping?

Yes on all three? Great! One or more No’s? Let’s talk about it.
Contact us for support resources!

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