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Tips to Avoid Tantrums – Utilize Transition Strategies

Children on Bridge Transitioning to New Place

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.

Visual Schedules

Visual Schedule for TransitionsA 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.

 

Timers

Stopwatch Timer Counting DownWhen 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.

Give Warnings

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.

Use First/Then

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.

First/Then ABA Behavior Reduction BoardThis 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.

Conclusion

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.

Taylor

12 Comments

  1. I like that you encourage patience with children who have autism. It must be really hard to stay calm all the time because outbursts sort of catch you off guard. One moment, everything is peaceful and then the next your child is screaming at the top of their lungs and you just happen to be at the library! Oh gosh, these things just happen to parents but being patient and loving is really the only answer. Children with austim as I understand, suffer from over stimulation and therefore some situations are just too much to deal with. Yeah you can give warnings and use timers but sometimes your child will not respond to those and simply will react and have a meltdown. The key is not to lose your cool. Its very hard to be a parent, but a parent of a child who has autism, I can’t even imagine. 

    Do you think that children with autism are able to learn coping skills to better deal with situations? 

    • Sophia, you’re very right. Children with autism do have issues with over-stimulation that lead to meltdowns that they cannot control. It is certainly difficult to deal with, but, like you said, it’s so important to stay calm in order to help calm the child.

      Children with autism can absolutely learn coping skills to deal with and avoid difficult situations. I have worked with children that have learned to ask for headphones in loud situations rather than having a meltdown. They pick up coping skills with time and practice, just like everyone else.

  2. Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your experiences with child schedules. And how to avoid tantrums. I like your visual schedule. I do work with schedules too. I run a day care with children between the 8 and 12 years of age. And you are so right. Children do need structure to get through the day with ease. I work with “thumb-up” notebooks too. When they have done something really good, or they have behaved nicely. Or didn’t swear at each other, they get a thumb-up. When they have 25 thumbs, they get a sticker and with 50 they receive $0,50. This works like a charm. Rewarding good behavior, instead of punishing bad behavior.

    I also have a food & drink schedule. They all know when it it fruit time, and when it’s candy time. That prevents a whole day of nagging children for sweets and cookies. And, also nice, it teaches them in no-time to watch the clock.

    Loes

    • Loes, that’s really awesome that you use a visual schedule! I also love that you use your “thumb-up” notebook too. That’s a really awesome way to add reinforcement to a child’s day. As you said, reinforcement works so much better than punishment, and, with the way you’re implementing it, they’re learning how to tell time too. Keep up the great work!

  3. Finding your post could not have come at a better time. My granddaughter has been throwing tantrums right and left for a couple of weeks now and I am about at wit’s end! We have tried a variety of schedules, but I think your idea of the visual schedule may just be the ticket! Giving her visual cues as to what is next may really help her out. I will definitely be trying this out. 

    I also think that setting the timer will be a practical way to give her warning that the current activity is almost over. She reacts very well to structure.

    What is a good first/then activity? What I mean is, for example, a chore followed by something she enjoys? Like picking up her toys and then being able to play on her tablet? How long do you recommend for each? I’ve been having her pick up her toys until she’s done and then setting a 1/2 hour limit on her tablet. (I let her go for 45 minutes if she uses an app like ABC Mouse or something like that.)

    • Karin, I’m glad my post found its way to you! For young children, visual schedules are great because they know what pictures mean whereas words don’t catch their attention or hold meaning. I hope a visual schedule works for you. If you would like me to send you some icons to get you started, please feel free to send me an email!

      First/Then activities can be any length and include any activity. I have used First/Then statements to get kids to eat their vegetables, get dressed, answer questions, and so much more.

      You have exactly the right idea having your granddaughter pick up her toys and then play with her tablet. If she is capable of picking up all of her toys, that’s great and she should do that. If she’s having a particularly hard day, I would pick a small number of toys to put away and then tell her she can have something that is slightly less preferred than the tablet. I don’t recommend giving the tablet after tantruming and only having to put away 2 or 3 toys, because she may catch on to the fact that tantruming = fewer toys and her tablet.

      I hope these strategies workout well for you! Please don’t hesitate to come back with any questions.

  4. Wise words – you obviously know small children very well!

    I was a teacher for many years, besides being a mother of four children, and I can definitely confirm that setting timers is an extremely effective way to deal with children of any age.

    But have you ever come across any children who do not respond to this strategy? How would you deal with that?

    Your post will be very valuable to any parent who would be crazy to tp at least try not to implement your tips!

    Many thanks for a great post.

    Chrissie 🙂

    • Hi Chrissie, I have indeed come across kids who don’t respond to the timer or kids who begin to tantrum at the sound of the timer itself. For those kids, I keep using the timers, but I focus a lot more on the other strategies. I also increase the amount of reinforcement I give to the child. If a child that tantrums at the sound of the timer only has a small tantrum and then transitions, I make sure to praise them and give them some sort of reinforcement that they really like.

      By providing reinforcement for listening to the timer, the child will start to see that transitioning with timers can mean good things too, and when you use First/Then statements, they will begin to trust that good things follow not-so-good things.

  5. Hi Taylor… Thanks for sharing these 4 Awesome Tips to Avoid Tantrums. Like you said, children tend do what they loved most. They will certainly throw tantrums when moving from a more preferred activity to a non preferred activity. I love the fifth tip; Use First/Then.

    Children are unpredictable anyways. To some extent, I think these tips will help reduce tantrums.

    Keep pouring these awesome tips.

    • First/Then statements are great. Kids tend to be too young to reason with at length, but using these statements is a simple enough reasoning for them to follow. At first, they won’t want to do it because they won’t trust that the good thing is actually going to happen, but the more you utilize these strategies, the more they will trust and the less they will tantrum.

  6. Hey, Taylor!

    This was very insightful. It never occurred to me that transitions can cause tantrums. Now, when I come to think of it, my little daughter definitely have displayed tantrums at times.

    I truly love that the whole idea is to in a way teach the child to transition, essentially to foster their growth in the area. Obviously I might me wrong, but isn’t this much like a muscle, the more you effectively transition (without experiencing tantrums), the better and more efficient you become at it?

    Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the visuals (visual schedule approach), I’ll forward this to my wife, and we’ll try to implement something like that and see how it works.

    Is it possible to buy somewhere the kind of visual cards as shown in the picture below “Visual schedules”? We would benefit from that greatly as neither me nor my wife are too much of a drawers.

    Cheers and have a Great One!Matiss

    • Matiss,

      Thanks for giving the article a read! I’m glad you found it useful. You’re right, this is just like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes and the easier it gets to transition.

      If you’re looking for some visuals, feel free to send me an email to taylor@brainbreather.com with a list of things you would like to use on a schedule and I will gladly put them together for you!

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