For Toddlers and Tough Transitions: Try Sand Timers

I can’t remember precisely when it happened, but at some point around the early twos, our son started having a tough time with some every day transitions. Time to start the bedtime routine… protest. Time to get out of the bath… whine. Time to nap… cry. We soon realized that if we gave him some notice, in the form of a countdown or number of minutes, he seemed to accept these transitions a little better because he knew they were coming. But even with a warning, things weren’t perfect. My two year old had no idea what 5 minutes meant, for example, so he would stress about when the 5 minutes would be done. That’s when my husband had this brilliant idea.

He ordered some Tea Timers. They came in a pack of three: one for 3, 5 and 7 minutes. They have colored sand which falls down so my son now has a concrete visual indication of how much time has passed and how much is left.

Now we let our son turn over a timer for each tough transition. They have worked like a charm! They work especially well for bath time. He used to protest the end of bath time like crazy (can’t blame him really–baths are great). Now we use the three minute timer when we want him to get out. He likes turning it over, can see the green sand falling down, and after it is done, he has no problems climbing out and getting his towel.

We also invested in a bigger hourglass. We got a 15 minute one to use during rest/nap time. We allow him to turn it over once or twice for each rest time and after it is done, he can get up. He watches as the purple sand falls down, and more than often, he’s asleep before it finishes. It has been incredibly helpful, especially since my son is now 3 1/2 so his naps have become less consistent. But at least now, we have a way of ensuring he gets in a good 15-30 minute rest every day.

I’ve noticed with parenthood, sometimes it’s little things that make a big difference. This is one that has helped us tremendously during the toddler phase. I’ve added the tea timers to my Mamajamas list. I hope your list will eventually help you share with your new parent friends some little things that have helped you along the way.


ImageI read an article yesterday about a mom whose autistic son reacts really strongly (ala class A meltdowns) every time there is a break in his routine.

My husband and I just finished a marathon heart-to-heart the night before about how we can provide more consistency in routine to our own, particularly sensitive, 3-year old.

Now our situation is probably more of an edge case. While not autistic, we have always known our little guy is sensitive to changes in his surroundings (and his environment in general — for other parents with sensitive children, it was really helpful to read this book).

But even if you don’t have a sensitive child, I think all kids thrive on predictability and routine to make sense of a world that can be chaotic and overwhelming.

But anyhow, back to our situation, to further complicate matters, my husband and I have always preferred to live lively, hectic lives (the following may make you feel better about the stability of your own situation):

So, for example:

  • Our work schedules are flexible, but inconsistent. Even though we get to spend lots of quality time with our son, he often doesn’t know who is caring for him when, and what time we will be home.
  • We recently did a major home renovation which lasted six months, so there are still lots of workers coming in and out of our house.
  • He’s been on at least 75 flights (which does sound crazy — but it’s been mostly for family reasons and breaks down to about once a month over 3 years).
  • He moved 4 times in the first 2 years of his life — including across the country.

These breaks in routine have manifested mostly in sleep problems, but also in some recent intense cries during times of transitions. Travel is especially hard, and we usually suffer through about two tough days pre-travel and a week post.

So here is what we’ve done (or are trying to do) to create more consistency of routine for our little guy:

  • Cut all non-necessary travel (we tried to go with him to SXSW when he was 5 months old and vowed to never to do  a trip like that again — but then we continued to have a crazy travel schedule. But we’ve recently decided that we should only travel for important events, weddings, and family).
  • Try to have only one transition occur at a time. We’ve learned that combining events, like for example, taking away the pacifier a week before we have a trip scheduled, is a recipe for disaster. Now we plan each transition carefully (or try to), so they are spaced out and come one at a time.
  • Talk about “the plan” — a lot. As part of our bedtime routine, we always talk about what the day will be like tomorrow. We’ve also made a book that shows his routine and has pictures of his caregivers that can be swapped in and out of the day.

This is all still a work in progress for us. Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions that have worked well for you.