Temper tantrums and meltdowns are one of the most stressful things parents manage with their children. Almost all children, no matter their age or whether they have a disability or not, will have temper tantrums from time to time. Of course, the intensity of these tantrums and the frequency of these tantrums vary quite a bit from one child to the next. Some kids only have a temper tantrum occasionally, while others might have very frequent tantrums that occur on a weekly or sometimes even daily basis all the way until they are in middle childhood. Adolescents can have tantrums, although meltdowns in a teen will likely look different than what they looked like during early and middle childhood.
When it comes to children with disabilities, including children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), temper tantrums or meltdowns might occur very frequently. There are many reasons for this. From sensory overload, reinforcement of specific behaviors, and lack of skill development in particular areas, children with autism can have high rates of outbursts.
Every child is unique. What works to stop or prevent one child’s tantrum might not work for another child. However, there are some things that are important to consider for all children when trying to help manage their challenging behaviors. There are also a few intervention strategies that are most likely to help any child if used in the right way. We will explore some recommendations for how you, as a parent or caregiver of a child with autism, can help reduce temper tantrums or meltdowns that your child experiences.
When trying to manage your child’s temper tantrums, it can be helpful to understand the reason behind their behavior. Why do you think your child is behaving that way? To help you better understand your child’s behavior, consider the following:
Consider whether your child’s behaviors could be due to one of the four functions of behavior. The four functions of behavior refer to the four potential reasons a person behaves in any way. The four functions include:
In addition to the antecedents and consequences related to a behavior, it is important to consider the following when trying to help your child manage temper tantrums.
Although it might not seem like you are addressing your child’s temper tantrums directly, being proactive is one of the most important things you can do to decrease how often your child has a meltdown. For instance, you might set up a daily schedule that includes when electronics are available to prevent tantrums related to your child not getting his electronic devices whenever he wants them.
Instead of just focusing on what your child is doing “wrong”, focus on what they do “right.” Take some time to think about what you think your child should do to prevent them from having a meltdown. Whatever your child’s particular challenging behaviors are, what would you like them to do instead? What do you think would be a more appropriate, more acceptable behavior for your child given the situation that usually results in a tantrum? If your child throws a fit when it is time to do homework or to clean their room, what behavior should your child do instead?
After identifying possible behaviors your child should do instead of the challenging behaviors, plan for how they can access positive reinforcement for those replacement behaviors. Positive reinforcement is something that occurs after a behavior that makes it more likely that behavior will happen again, like rewarding a “good behavior”.
You might have to start very small when reinforcing replacement behaviors. For instance, if your child needs to clean their room when asked, you might need to break down the task of cleaning their room into very small steps and then reinforce each of those small steps one at a time while slowly working on getting your child to do the entire task.
Reducing the response effort refers to making the more appropriate behavior easier for your child. This could be making the task simpler for your child to do, such as giving an easier homework sheet or fewer problems to complete. Another example is putting a “help me” or “break” picture icon near your child so they can easily use these icons to express themselves instead of having a meltdown when they are stressed.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to give your child a little bit of extra help to calm down or to engage in the replacement behavior when they are having a meltdown. You might even give them extra help if you anticipate that their behavior might start escalating.
Some ways that you can offer extra help is by giving your child a verbal reminder of what they can do in the situation that might trigger a meltdown. For example, you can say, “Remember, you can ask for help.” when your child is doing their homework to remind them to use the skill of asking for help instead of getting too overwhelmed by their homework which could then lead to a meltdown.
You could also use visual supports, such as rule boards or schedules which reminds your child of set expectations. For instance, if your child has tantrums related to not being able to use a tablet, you might have a “First/Then Board” which shows that they need to do something first before getting the tablet.
To get further help in addressing your child’s temper tantrums or meltdowns, contact Behavioral Innovations. Our experienced Behavior Analysts can help you come up with an individualized behavior intervention plan that will work for your child based on your child’s unique needs, abilities, and behaviors of concern. Contact us by filling out a short form or call 855-782-7822.