How to Avoid Transition-Based Tantrums

How to Avoid Transition-Based Tantrums
Photo: Anna Kraynova, Shutterstock
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Toddlers throw tantrums for all kinds of reasons, both logical and illogical. A fit could be thrown for the understandable reason that they’re simply tired at the end of a long day, or they could be fine one second and ultra-pissed that you dared to pour their milk into the green cup when you should have known they wanted the blue one. But one thing the parent of a toddler can count on: The likelihood of a tantrum whenever a transition is involved.

A transition-based tantrum doesn’t necessarily just happen when a toddler has to leave one place (say, the playground) to go to another place (boring old home). Any transition where one thing ends so another can begin can trigger a meltdown — even if the thing they’ll be starting is something they like. That’s because, as Big Little Feelings points out, toddlers’ brains do not like to be surprised; the world feels unsafe when they don’t know what’s going to happen next.

That’s why they suggest you use the “PREP” method to help curb transition-based tantrums. That’s “Plan” ahead,“Reveal” the plan, “Explain” the details, and “Put” your toddler in charge of something small. It goes like this:

  • First, plan in advance. For example, if you need to leave for school at 8:15 a.m., don’t wait until 8:11 a.m. to get all your stuff together. If you do, you’ll feel stressed and hurried, and your toddler will definitely pick up on that vibe.
  • Then, reveal the plan. Tell your toddler what’s up: “At 8:15 a.m., we’re going to leave for school.”
  • Next, explain the details. Narrate everything your toddler can expect to happen: “We’re going to eat breakfast now, and then we’ll brush our teeth and get dressed. Next, we’ll pack your backpack and go potty. After that, you’ll get in your car seat, and we’ll drive to school.”
  • Finally, put your toddler in charge of something small. All humans want to feel powerful and valued — even tiny ones. So let your toddler make a pint-sized decision. “Do you want to wear your blue jacket or the purple one?”

Will this work every time? Of course not, don’t be silly. Sometimes toddlers are just going to be toddlers and freak out about having to take a bath, even though they knew they were going to have to take a bath.

But getting into the habit of narrating what is coming up next so they know what to expect from their day (and can take a bit of ownership over the transition) helps cut the surprise factor down and makes them at least slightly more agreeable to the change.

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