Before two little people called me “mom”, many medium-sized people called me “teacher”. I am so grateful for those years I spent in the classroom, because little did I know at the time, but it gave me a lot of great tools for being a parent.
My favorite years were the ones spent working with students who had autism. The kids I worked with were so incredibly smart. Many were non-verbal, but when given the right tools, they were able to overcome so many different challenges.
It was through this job that I was introduced to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and other methods of helping these students learn how to function and thrive in our confusing and over-stimulating environment. After becoming a mother, I realized that a lot of the toddler behaviors I was seeing could also be helped using the same strategies I used in the classroom.
One of the lessons I learned was how to ease transition time. Many kids have a very hard time with transitions. This is especially true when they are doing something they enjoy.
Think of this scenario:
You have had a stressful day. You show up to your favorite coffee shop, order yourself a relaxing latte, and sit back in the comfortable chair enjoying the smooth music playing over the sound system. All of a sudden the coffee shop owner says “Attention everyone, we will be leaving in one minute”. You barely have time to process that information when they come around with a large trash bag to collect all the drinks. They come to you and you say “No” and hold on to your drink a little tighter. You just got it and it is making you happy and you aren’t prepared to just let it go. They grab it from your hands and throw it away for you all while smiling and saying “It’s ok, you can come back tomorrow for another one.”
You would throw a tantrum, wouldn’t you?
This is what happens so many times with our children.
You’re at the store and your child finds a toy that they are interested in. You tell them “You have one minute to look at it and then we have to go shopping down the next aisle.” Shortly after that, you tell your child it’s time to move on, they hug their toy tighter and start to get loud in their protests. Embarrassed and not wanting to cause a scene you try to convince your child to put the toy down. Finally you look at your watch, realize it’s a lost cause, and you end up having to peel it out of their hands and then you have to drag a crying kid around for the rest of your shopping.
Here’s what I learned in regards to helping kids with these transitions:
Kids need time to process what is going to happen. We often mean well by giving them warnings in minutes, but how well does your child really understand a minute? Also, how well do you do in sticking exactly to the time warning you gave your child? Minutes can be confusing. Instead, think of approaching the situation like this:
[child’s name] I know you are really enjoying that toy. But we are here at the store and we need to finish our shopping. So let’s count to 10 together and when we get to 10 we are going to say good-bye to that toy. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Good bye toy, thanks for letting us play with you! See you next time!
If you are just starting to use this strategy, you count VERY slowly to give your kids lots of time to mentally prepare to be separated from whatever it is they are enjoying. One of the students in my classroom needed us to count to 30 very slowly so he could prepare his mind to transition. After they get used to this method of transitioning you can reduce the numbers and countdown faster. My two-year old is now at the point where we only need to count to five for him to be OK with moving on.
A couple notes:
- Don’t expect this to work right away. The first couple of times you do it, your child may not respond well and may still throw a tantrum and get upset. Once they are familiar with the process, however, it becomes much easier. The key is to being consistent and acknowledging their feelings.
- I try not to grab the toy or whatever object out of my sons’ hands. Instead I encourage them to put it back by themselves. This puts some of the control in their hands. If they still refuse after you have counted to 10 and said goodbye to the toy, then I say:
I know you are sad to say goodbye to your toy. I get sad when I have to say goodbye to things I like too. We’re going to count to 10 again. If you can’t put the toy back by yourself by the time we get to 10, then I’m going to help you.
Once the child willingly puts the toy back by themself, congratulate them and tell them what a good choice they made.
- I know it seems like this does not save time. At first it takes a lot of time, and you can feel kind of silly if you are with other parents, but the pay-off is definitely worth it. I have a very strong-willed child and I know this strategy has saved us many, many tantrums and tears. Is it foolproof? No. But it is extremely useful and a great “tool” to use if you have a child who really struggles with transitions.
What strategies do you use to reduce tantrums in your little ones?