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Baby to Big Kid Transitions

Thump! (Long, scary pause.) "WAAANNNHH!!" One of my 26-month-old twin sons, Theo, had just learned to climb out of his crib but had not yet mastered the climbing-down-to-the-floor part. It's always frightening when your kid first learns this monkey maneuver because it's the signal, according to most experts, that it's time to move him to a big bed. (And, oh yeah, he could seriously hurt himself.)

Theo was fine, but I was panicked. Within an hour, I was back from the store with two crib tents. As I zipped up the tents that afternoon, my boys cozily confined inside for their naps, I sighed in relief: My life does not have to be upended. At least not right now.

Because, frankly, I was tired of life-upending transitions. Just a month before, we'd gone through the excruciating process of taking away the boys' nighttime ba-ba of milk. (Yep, call the Parenting Police, I let them use bottles past age 2.) And a few months before that, the boys had given up their morning nap--and I'd had to say goodbye to my shower-coffee-e-mail break.

The point is: Toddlers, from 18 months through about age 4, go through some pretty huge transitions. And therefore, so do their parents. "Development is so rapid during these years, which is why so many important steps toward independence happen," says Tovah Klein, Ph.D., director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, in New York City. And what's particularly tricky about toddler transitions is that they come just when you had gotten into a good rhythm and thought your life was back to normal.

Here's a freakout-free guide to how and when things get shaken up, and how to get your family's life back on track sooner rather than later.