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Childhood Transitions

Parenting Advice Basics


Updated March 11, 2012

A teen driver getting the keys for the first time.

A teen driver getting the keys for the first time.

Photo (c) Trista Weibell
When you ask parents which age was the most difficult when raising their kids, it is often whatever age their kids are now...

While that may seem like a simple way to look at the demands of parenting, when you look at parenting more objectively, you usually do find that each age does have its own challenges.

Many of these difficult times revolve around transitions, such as when your baby weans from the breast, moves from a crib to a bed, gives up his naps, and starts kindergarten, etc.

Learning about and anticipating these childhood transitions can make parenting a little easier.


The transition of moving from two naps to one and then finally giving up a nap altogether can be very difficult. For a few weeks or months, until they get used to their new sleep schedule, kids can be very tired, extra sensitive, and irritable, especially in the late afternoon and early evening.

Make sure your kids get enough sleep, including daytime sleep from their naps and don't give up their naps before they are supposed to. Keep in mind that most 2 and 3 year olds won't take a nap if you give them a choice...

If your older toddler has given up taking naps, but then quickly falls asleep in his car seat or his fussy late in the day, then you likely let him give up his nap too soon. You might have to change the time of when you were putting him down for the nap, be more consistent in you daytime routine, or simply have some afternoon quite time if you still aren't able to get your toddler or preschool age child to take a nap and you think he needs one.

Eating Habits

Many parents also encounter problems when their child's diet transitions from that of a baby to a toddler and then to a diet that resembles the rest of the family, which is hopefully a healthy diet.

Reviewing the 'normal' times that infants start baby food, finger food, and table food, can make feeding your baby much easier, especially for new parents. It can be just as important to understand that many toddlers have a big slowdown in their eating, like to feed themselves, and can become very picky.

Common Childhood Transitions

Other common childhood transitions that parents should, or will eventually, be familiar with include:
  • moving your baby to a crib from a bassinet (around 3 months of age)
  • teething and getting a first baby tooth (between 3 to 15 months)
  • sleeping through the night (around 4 to 5 months)
  • starting baby food (around 4 to 6 months)
  • starting finger foods and table foods (around 8 to 9 months)
  • weaning from infant formula to whole milk (12 months)
  • changing from a bottle to a sippy cup (around 12 to 15 months)
  • moving from 2 naps (a morning and afternoon nap) to 1 afternoon nap (age 12 to 18 months)
  • weaning your infant or toddler from breast milk to infant formula or whole milk, depending on his age
  • temper tantrums and the terrible twos
  • starting potty training (age 18 months to 3 years)
  • moving your child to a toddler bed (age 2 to 3 years, once your toddler is climbing out of his crib, or he is 36 inches tall)
  • finishing potty training (age 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years)
  • giving up the afternoon nap (around age 3 to 5 years, but typically closer to when they start kindergarten)
  • first day of school
  • staying dry at night (age 4 to 5 years or even later for some kids and very often much later then when they are fully potty trained)
  • losing a first baby tooth (age 6 to 7 years)
  • starting puberty - girls (age 8 to 13 years)
  • starting puberty - boys (age 9 to 14 years)
  • learning to drive
  • graduating from high school
  • moving out of the house
  • going to college
  • getting a job
Of course, those last few can happen in a different order...

Transition Rules???

There are no hard and fast rules when dealing with childhood transitions, except that you should likely be suspicious that something could be wrong if your child is way outside the typical range for when something should occur. For example, if your 18 month has already given up naps altogether or your 8 year old still needs a daytime nap, then that could be pointing to a medical problem.

On the other hand, knowing that most kids don't start staying dry until they are 5 to 8 years old will help you to know that a 3 or 4 year old is normal if he is still wetting the bed, even after he is potty trained.

The only other 'rule' about childhood transitions is that kids with different temperaments handle them very differently. While an easy going child might be able to both switch to whole milk and a sippie cup and the same time, another child who is much more resistant to change might have to be slowly changed to whole milk and then again slowly changed to a sippie cup a few months later.

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