Tantrums When Leaving
My two year-old has a hard time leaving places. I've tried preparing him to leave “We're leaving in a few minutes” and incentives “Want to press the button on the elevator?” but nothing seems to work. He wails and flings about on the floor. I end up just picking him up and leaving.
Your strategies for helping your two-year old with transitions are right on target. Toddlers love predictability and being the boss. Red cup/blue cup (hat or mittens first) is particularly handy. The idea is that the toddler gets to choose the color of the cup, not the use of the cup.
Consistency is one key. When he is undecided, reassure him that you are in control, even when he is not. A few helpful sayings: “You can choose or I will choose.” “I know you are mad but we are still going.” “I know it is hard to stop but I can help.” “When I count to three, we are all done.”
Toddlers have small vocabularies and big feelings. To help him build skills, use your words to help him identify his feelings (“You are frustrated!” or “So mad!”) When he does fall apart when leaving, conveying empathy can go along way for both of you. (“I know you don’t want to leave.”) The good news is that transition distress usually only lasts a few months while the toddler gains verbal and emotional regulation skills.
It can be helpful to make sure that the distress is not related to something else.
- Ask yourself a few questions: how many transitions in caregivers and settings does your child make each week?
- Have there been recent changes in providers, locations, or transition rituals?
- Has your toddler experienced other stressful changes like a change in a parent’s work schedule, or a switch a “big boy” bed?
Some children are simply more sensitive and have bigger antennas. Is your child likely to react to changes or situations that most other toddlers would just roll with? Finding the answers to these questions won’t suddenly make transitions easy, but may make his tantrums less of a mystery.