How To Help Your Tantruming Child With Transitions

You definitely want to help your tantruming child with transitions since you know how hard it can be for them (and for you…). Transitioning can be a very difficult process for a child. There are the smaller transitions that can seem simple to you but for them it can be frustrating and even overwhelming at times. As parents we really want them to be able to move from playtime/breaktime to homework easily. Or to transition from legos to the car because you it’s time to leave. 

The reality is that for children they get fixated on what’s in front of them and these smaller transitions can become overwhelming for them. Some children have a harder time with transitions than others as well. You want to support them so they don’t break down and start tantruming during a transition but you are at a loss for how to help.

toddler enjoying the splashes of the waves

Maybe your tantruming child during transitions looks like this: 

You notice that you child is really into playing outside on the trampoline back and forth to their bike and kicking the soccer ball around. Taking the time to make a great dinner for the family and are ready for everyone to sit down. You anticipate some push back with coming inside for dinner since he is fully into his play outside. And because you know your child. You prepare yourself mentally and call him in for dinner. The initial response isn’t great so you give it another few minutes. 

You then call him again with a firmer tone. At that point he comes in fully frustrated. He then notices that you made chicken and for some reason he was thinking it was a spaghetti night. He gets fully flustered and starts to cry screaming for spaghetti. You are now frustrated too since you spent all this time making dinner and just want a quiet evening. This situation feels all too familiar. 

The difficulty with dealing with all these tantrums during transitions is that you really do want to continue onto the next phase of what you are trying to accomplish. Whether that’s dinner, bedtime, or getting to the car, having a tantruming child can feel very difficult for the parent. And it’s no picnic for the child either! 

boy wearing brown shoes sitting on wooden bench

You are ready for a change but you don’t know where to start. Let’s talk about how to help your tantruming child during transitions.

How to One: Understand, identify and communicate the underlying feeling for them. Give them the language they are missing 

Much of the time children have trouble finding the words for what they are feeling. It becomes their communication to melt down or have a tantrum. We want them to have the actual words to identify their feelings rather than melting down. If Eric is struggling transitioning from playing to homework time and has a tantrum you could help give him the words. You could say “I know its really hard to stop what you’re doing. I get it.” Or “It’s frustrating to stop doing something you love and do homework instead.” And then you could follow it up with “what is something you want to do after you’re done?”

Giving your child the words to what they are going through during a transition will plant the seeds for having this language in the future. It also helps them feel that you understand them. They will feel acknowledged when you consistently do this. Even if in the moment they can’t appreciate it you are giving them the language they need to use their words essentially. Many times we can get stuck in our own frustrations. I totally get it, it can be frustrating. When this happens however, it truly impacts your ability to help them through the transition and typically leads to this getting worse.   

In child therapy at Simi Psychological Group we work with parents on being a true resource and support to their kids. The reality is that we can get stuck in our own ways. We help guide you to work through the stuckness and communicate what is underlying your child’s tantruming behaviors. 

Tantruming child with transitions- How to Two: Set yourself up mentally to be calm and communicative

It can be hard in the moment to transition ourselves from a frustrated state to a calm state where you are able to give the language to your child. Try to set yourself up mentally to work through transitions and tantruming . When you prepare yourself to be the calm and communicative parent you want to be will exponentially increase your chances of doing so. Talk yourself through it. You can remind yourself that “I want to give the language of what I think he is feeling when he’s upset.” 

This can feel rather difficult since you have your own goals in mind and structure for how things need to go. And you don’t want to be around a tantruming child. All you want is for some peace of mind and quiet. But the truth is that you will be doing yourself a big favor by preparing yourself to breathe through the frustration and give them the language they need. You will be giving them the seeds for communication themselves leading to much less tantrums in the future. 

In child therapy in Simi Valley we help parents work through their frustrations and communicate in the hard moments. Being able to set yourself for this success and consistency in doing so can make all the difference in the future communication between you and your child. 

two boys playing at a park

How to Three: Prepare them for a smooth transition before they go into the preferred activity

Preparation is key. Kids need to know what to expect. They also greatly benefit from going over the possibilities and outcomes that come ahead. For example, talking to them about what to expect in terms of how much time there is to play. And how much of a heads up they will get before dinner. Then what would be a response that you will feel appreciative of. You can talk through all of this with them before they go into the preferred activity. 

Talking things through ahead of time helps them mentally prepare for what’s to come. It will also help set up their mind to have the language to share how they feel. The reality is that kids want to behave well. They really need the right tools to do so however. By doing this with them you are giving them the tools they need to better succeed. In child therapy and family counseling we help parents set things up to lead to a better transition and outcome for all involved.

Tantruming child with transitions- How to Four: Use a reinforcement chart for smooth transitions

Many parents find that a reinforcement chart can be helpful for motivating their child to have a smooth transition from a preferred to non preferred activity. What makes a reinforcement chart more likely to succeed is to be consistent. It doesn’t work well when you use it only some of the time. Also, it needs to be simple. Having 5 different goals on a chart can become overwhelming for all involved. But if the focus is on transitioning smoothly as the only or one of two goals then it becomes much more doable for kids and parents to focus. 

Dealing with a tantruming child during transitions can be overwhelming but there is a lot to do to help you and your child. Identifying the underlying feeling, helping them develop language, working on staying calm and communicative, preparing them for a smooth transition, and using a reinforcement chart are some integral ways to make things better. You don’t have to do this alone. Simi Psychological group is here to help. 

About the author,

Donna Novak, Psy.D. 

psychologist Simi Valley ca

I specialize in working with anxiety and in helping adolescents and their families, adults, and couples better their relationships and find direction. Rather than shy away from the tough stuff in life, I prefer to face it head-on, together. I believe that challenges are part of being human and that everyone has the potential to become their own life’s navigator. So they never have to feel out of control or at the mercy of their circumstances. Learn more

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At our therapy practice in Simi Valley, Ca we offer Child therapy and family counseling, Teen therapy, Anxiety Treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Neuropsychological Testing. an