“Positive reinforcement is extremely powerful.”
— B. F. Skinner
In this post, we’re going to talk more about how to prevent tantrums for children with ADHD and Autism with transitions. We are going to look at specific ideas and suggestions for the last category of transition strategies: the overlap with behavioral modification strategies. As always, you’ll need to experiment to figure out which strategies work best for your family and which you’ll want to build on/adapt to your individual family’s needs.
There is some overlap between the strategies you use to help your child with autism and ADHD manage transitions and the strategies you use to help your child manage his behavior — a child who is overwhelmed by a transition is likely to melt down or otherwise act out.
Here are some strategies that work for transitions as well as for behavior modification and management:
• Praise and encouragement
– Everyone likes to be acknowledged and praised, especially children, and especially by their parents.
– Tailor your language and tone to your child’s physical and developmental age.
– Praise good transitioning (and good behavior) enthusiastically and sincerely.
– Focus on the effort your child made and provide encouragement for continuing that effort. You can say things like, “I like the way you put your coat on the first time I asked” or “You’re getting so good at brushing your teeth!” This fosters the pride and self-esteem that comes with working successfully to achieve goals.
– Be specific in your praise and encouragement; mention exactly what your child did right. “Good job” is lukewarm; “What a good job you did setting the table; it looks beautiful and I can’t wait to sit down at it” is specific and warm.
– Children can tell when someone is not being genuine and they aren’t going to fall for general hyperbole. “You’re the best tooth-brusher in the whole world!” is not as effective as the more sincere and specific “Your teeth look so white and shiny; you must have worked hard at brushing them!”
– Children like to be helpful. You can involve your child in everyday tasks and then be sure to say things like, “You really helped me a lot in the grocery store. Thank you for picking out these delicious apples.”
– Follow up praise and encouragement with a star (see below).
• Use a rewards chart
– Make a chart, with spaces for stars to be awarded for successful transitions.
– The stars themselves can be the reward, or you can use the stars as a points system leading up to earning rewards such as stickers, a fun outing, playing a favorite game, a small (dollar store) toy, a character pencil, etc. For every X number of stars, your child can choose a ‘prize’ from your list or box of treats.
– A star chart can provide extra motivation in various situations where your child is having difficulty meeting the goal, i.e., “If you complete your morning routine before the timer goes off to let us know it’s time to leave, you get a star for your chart.”
– Sticker charts can be used equally effectively for rewarding successful transitioning and for behavior modification.
• Don’t escalate the situation if your child is really making an effort
– Despite her best intentions, sometimes your child with autism and ADHD is not having a successful transition. If she’s really making an effort to transition, pay less attention to the result and more to the process. She may not earn a star, but she’ll feel acknowledged if you let her know that you know she tried, and that you know she’ll get it in hand the next time.
• Do follow through with appropriate consequences
– Implement appropriate consequences if your child is intentionally misbehaving. Make the consequence a logical one so that he understands that a specific behavior is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
– Consequences should vary according to your child’s age and tolerance levels. For example, if she refuses to put a toy away, you may want to remove it and let her know that she won’t be allowed to play with it for a specific amount of time. If he refuses to get off his cell phone and come to dinner, you may want to confiscate the cell phone overnight.
– NOTE: You should never withhold a sensory break as a punishment or your child’s behavior will only get worse; she needs that sensory activity in order to cope.
I hope this post on preventing tantrums for children with autism and ADHD with transitions helps you and your family. Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you!
All the best,
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