It’s 9:45 AM and your speech-language pathologist is here for your toddler’s session. She steps through the door, cheerful and smiling, ready to chat with you about your child’s routines and progress. Your toddler is busy watching BabyFirst and barely even notices that her therapist has arrived. You reach for the remote and turn off the TV, a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
And sure enough, the minute that screen pops blank, the tantrum begins.
Your child wails, weeps and stamps on the floor. She pounds you in the chest with her fists and tries to grab the remote control and turn the TV back on. Sheepishly, you pick her up, and hold her on your lap. You and the speech therapist try to distract your child with other activities, but the wailing just gets worse. You feel your face heating up. You’re embarrassed and frustrated. Why can’t she just stop it already?!
It might be soothing to know that this situation is very common among toddlers. Your child is demonstrating trouble transitioning. Many children have a hard time with this, and children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are most likely to have trouble with transitions.
What are transitions?
The experience of changing from one environment or activity to another. As adults, we experience transitions all the time without a blip. We go from breakfast to work to the cafeteria for lunch all without blinking an eyelash.
For kids, those transitions are a big bothersome deal. Especially if they are transitioning from a soothing, preferred activity (like watching TV) to a more challenging, demanding activity (like interactive play with a parent and therapist).
Believe it or not, the TV-turnoff-tantrum is a lot more common than you think! So what can you do about those frustrating (and, let’s face it–embarrassing) moments?
Try these two sanity-saving strategies.
- Plan to Ease into Transitions
- Put yourself into your child’s shoes and think about what s/he likes to do, instead of what YOU like him/her to do. If you’d sort your child’s activities by preference, it might look something like this.
|playtime on the carpet
looking at books
active indoor play
sitting for meals
- When planning transitions, Kara’s mom decided to transition Kara from TV to a neighborhood walk, and then look at a book until the therapist arrived to work on interactive play. This eased Kara’s transitions and greatly decreased the frequency, duration, and intensity of Kara’s tantrums.
- Prepare for Bad Weather
- When you know a hurricane is coming, you prepare yourself and your home by shuttering the windows and stocking up on supplies. Since you know your toddler tends to tantrum during transitions, it makes sense to prepare yourself to weather the storm.
- Make sure you’ve eaten a good meal so that you are energized and ready to handle what is coming.
- Surround yourself by caring, non judgmental people who will support you.
- Have a validating mantra you can repeat to yourself over and over until the tantrum passes (i.e.”My child is tantruming, but I will stay calm and in control of myself.” or “This is not my fault but it is my challenge and I will handle it in the best way I can.”)
- When possible, give yourself time to recover and calm yourself after the tantrum.
- Try not to get emotional. Your child senses when his/her tantrums are beginning to get to you, and you don’t want him/her to start using tantrums as a tool to manipulate you.
As your child develops more language skills, you will begin to implement more strategies to prepare her for transitions. For now, try out those two and don’t forget to let us know how it goes!