Transitioning from one activity to another can be difficult, especially if you’re not ready for it. Adults have the maturity (most of the time) to roll with the punches and transition without issues. Kids on the other hand, don’t always have that ability.
Children, especially children with autism, have a very difficult time transitioning from one activity or place to another. This often leads to tantruming behaviors and headaches for parents. In order to avoid these tantrums, you need to implement transition strategies like the ones below.
A visual schedule is an amazing tool for parents and teachers alike. It takes the surprises out of life, which, for a kid, is a good thing. By using a visual schedule, they will always know what’s coming up next.
In my work, my clients have daily visual schedules that cover their entire days from waking up to going to sleep. They also have smaller visual schedules that I utilize during our sessions to let them know exactly what we will be covering during our sessions.
When a child knows what’s coming up, they can prepare for it. They can also see when the good things are coming. I always follow things like work with something fun that the child enjoys, like playing their favorite game or playing with toys.
It is also important to involve the child in making their schedules. Obviously not everything can be up to them, but they should be allowed to make a few decisions about what they do or where they go in their day.
With more control and more predictability in their day, children will be less likely to tantrum during transitions.
When your child does need to transition to a new place or a new activity, try setting a timer for 3 to 5 minutes before they need to move. This will give them a heads up that change is coming, again adding to the predictability.
Let them know that you’ve set a time for however many minutes and when the timer goes off, it’s time to move to the next activity. If you’re utilizing a visual schedule, you can show your child what’s next. If you’re not using one, or it’s not around, verbally tell your child what it is that they’re going to be doing after the timer goes off.
When you set the timer, it is important to give your child warnings. Children have short attention spans and will likely forget that you ever set one in the first place.
The amount of warnings depends on how long of a timer you set. I have set 15 or 30 minute timers before, so a warning for every minute is a bit absurd. With long timers, I let them know at 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 1 minute. With shorter timers, like 5 minutes, I do tend to give minute-by-minute warnings.
Minute-by-minute warnings are not necessary, but, from my experience, they’re helpful. Another helpful tip: don’t miss the one-minute warning. This warning keeps the transition fresh in their mind so they’re better prepared for the transition when it happens.
Even when you use these techniques, there’s still a chance that your child will throw a tantrum, especially if they’re moving from something preferred, like playing, to something non-preferred.
This is where a first/then statement comes in. In the behavioral science world, this is known as the Premack Principle. What the Premack Principle states is that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.
In action, this looks like getting a child to do something unpreferred (first) by telling them that they get to do something preferred after (then).
Example: “First we are going to go grocery shopping. Then I will take you to the park to play.”
Again, this lets the child know that there is an end to the bad, an end that results in something they like to do. In theory, this will push the child to get through the not-so-fun part in order to get to the fun part.
Basically everything I have covered here today comes down to predictability. Children aren’t the biggest fans of surprises or abrupt changes. This is what leads to tantruming. Take away the surprises and the abrupt changes, and you will see a decrease in the amount of tantrums your child throws.
I challenge you to use these 4 techniques for just one day, even for just one transition. One day is all you will need to see a huge difference in your child, but I guarantee you won’t stop there. Once you use the strategies for a consistent amount of time, they will become natural for your child and they will begin to respond better and better to transitions.
Should you accept this challenge, let me know how it goes by dropping a comment below.
For more tips and tricks for dealing with toddler tantrums, check out my article.