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How to stop meltdowns when there's a change

Does your child have a meltdown when changes occur?

Do you get anxious when you know you'll have to tell your child about an unexpected change?

Why are changes difficult and why do they trigger tantrums?

  • Because our kiddo's feel comfortable and secure when they know what is happening in their environment.

  • Because a change is a cue that something unknown might be happening and this can cause the child to experience anxiety.

  • Because a change is a transition and neurodiverse kiddo's can struggle with transitions.

  • Because change usually means finishing with a preferred task or activity to something less preferred.

How do we help our children cope with changes?


  1. Determine the ranking of 5 different changes from easy to hard

  2. Get reinforcers ready - ask your child what they want to earn (this will help motivate them to learn a new skill that is tricky for them. Reinforcement also increases the future likelihood of a behavior (which is exactly what we want!)

  3. Create a short social story that explains what a change is and how your child can respond.

  4. The story should include pictures and be written using simple, first-person language.

  5. For example: "Changes might make me feel worried and that's okay. But a change is no big deal. When a change happens I can close my eyes, take a deep breath, say 'No big deal'. When I do this I can become a superstar at coping with changes."

  6. Read the social story and practice making small silly changes (e.g. putting your sock on your head, putting you jacket on inside-out, moving a piece of furniture to a different location). Then practice the response.

  7. Slowly make more and more difficult changes. Tell your child that a change is coming and practice self-calming strategies before the change happens (e.g. 3 slow breaths, tense and relax muscles, go for a walk)

How to generalize this skill?

  1. Embed changes that you know your child can cope with throughout the day - practice the calming techniques even if you know they can cope (we want this to become a habit so that when a difficult change happens they already know what to do)

  2. Make some changes fun and silly

  3. Prior to a difficult change, give your child warning that a change is going to happen. Remind them and practice how to cope with a change and do this with them. Then make the change.

  4. If your child isn't coping, help them through this time - you must have a calm tone, body language and interaction. Do not get angry and upset with your child. They are still learning the skills to cope with the change and they are not intentionally being difficult.

Respond with a loving heart to help your child through the difficult moment.

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