Preventing Tantrums in a Social Setting

As parents of children with autism, we quickly become familiar with what our children can handle and what they can’t. We pick our social settings carefully and hope for the best. But in the world of autism that our kids inhabit, there is a level of unpredictability. That unpredictability can cause tantrums that could blow the roof off a grocery store.

So what do we do? How can we prevent or at least lessen the chances of a tantrum that may bring every pair of judgmental eyes in the restaurant onto us? Here are a few ideas of precautions you can take that can make everyone’s lives a little easier.

Preset the Kids

Routine is the key to success for most families of a child with autism. When that routine gets broken, even slightly, it can result in fits of screaming, crying, or even violent behavior. Presetting upcoming changes for our kids becomes a vital piece to any social setting. It gives back to them a sense of security and control in their environment, even a foreign one with different people.

Some examples of ways to preset your kids include:

  1. Talking about the situation in advance
  2. Showing pictures of the place(s) you’ll be going
  3. Talking about expectations of behavior
  4. Breaking down the outing into pieces and taking the time to reiterate what is coming next
  5. Offering a reward for good behavior

Sometimes by addressing what is to come beforehand, you can effectively eliminate or mediate any tantrums that would result from the change in environment or social setting.

Keep a Bag of Tricks

Many children with autism have certain things that will set them off. For many there is a sensory component. That can include loud noises, lighting, or proximity to other people- which can in turn, trigger tantrums. If sound is an issue, you might want to bring with you a pair of old headphones that your child can use to help minimize noise. If lighting is an issue, bring a pair of sunglasses. Sometimes even using distracting items such as lollipops (which also provide oral stimulation), a squishy ball, or something small to keep their hands busy can be all the time you need to buy yourself an easy entrance and exit.

Have an Exit Strategy

Sometimes your child is just having a bad day. We all have them, and they are no different. There is nothing that can be done to prepare them for the environment, the people, or the location. The best thing you can do is to go in to a place with an exit strategy in mind. If you see a trigger, or note signs that your child is getting edgy, try to make a graceful yet speedy exit.

If you are meeting with friends, explain that it may be a short visit. Don’t unpack too many items and what you do unload, make sure is quick and easy to grab. If you are going shopping, make a stop to the restroom before you go, make sure to grab the essentials you need first, and be ready to cut and run if you need to.

The most important piece to preventing a tantrum is to stay calm. Children are very observant and aware of their parents’ behavior. If you panic, it may heighten their anxiety level and get them more on edge. Stay calm, be prepared, preset your children, and make your exit early if you need to. It may not work every time, but the preparation alone gives you a little bit of control in a disorder that can be unpredictable at best.