It’s beautifully sunny outside and you and your family are ready to check out that new playground you’ve heard so much about—the one with the train ride and ponies. You’re heading out the door when suddenly, your kid moves into meltdown city. Population: one.
Sudden tantrums can frustrate even the calmest of parents and turn a joyful day into a chaotic mess. The solution? Front loading your day to help you and your child avoid epic meltdowns and stay on track toward fun and productivity.
Below, we’ll explain why front loading is helpful for children facing challenges related to developmental disabilities and how you can become a front-loading expert faster than you think.
Front Loading Can Be a Game Changer
“For parents of children with developmental disabilities, front loading can get you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Spending just 10 minutes per day front loading can prevent those 10- or 30-minute tantrums that derail the day.”
Unexpected change can be difficult for children with developmental disabilities. They may struggle to communicate, become anxious, and act out with tantrums, aggression, or other negative behaviors. Front loading, or preparing your child for changes ahead of time, is a quick and easy way to make even busy days feel more structured and predictable.
It can head off negative reactions and help you and your family stay more sane and serene (phew!). The best part is, you don’t have to be a trained therapist to do it—just use these strategies.
5 Strategies to Stay Calm and Front Load On
1. Say two things
When front loading, you only have to explain two things to your child:
- What’s going to change
- What you expect of them
For example, “We’re going to the grocery store in an hour. In 45 minutes, we need to put the iPad away and put on our socks and shoes, okay?” You may also want to give them a five-minute warning before socks and shoes time, just to reiterate expectations and ease into the next activity.
2. Consider their attention span
“Kids are going to be kids,” says Abigail Bunt, parent and Co-Founder and Executive Director of MeBe, an organization that helps children facing challenges related to speech, language, and developmental disabilities. “They have limited attention spans, so be concise when front loading—a few sentences maximum. The most common mistake among parents is being too verbose when a brief heads-up would do just fine.”
3. Use sensory materials
Feel free to break out written or visual aids to help explain upcoming activities. Consider printing out a daily schedule and sharing it with your child throughout the day while pointing to the next activity. If your child communicates best with images, try showing them the same photo or sketch that represents “swimming pool” every time you’re preparing to go to your favorite neighborhood splash zone.
Check out this recorded MeBe Learning Webinar on developing visual schedules and supports for more helpful tips.
With the availability of the internet, smartphones, and tablets nowadays, you could even use video to your advantage. “Things like going to the dentist or getting a haircut can be extra stressful for children with developmental disabilities,” explains Abigail. “The new sounds and sensations may be overwhelming, not to mention the experience of going to a new place and meeting people. For some children, watching videos of other kids going to the dentist and seeing the weird new sights ahead of time helps to calm their nerves.”
4. Accept trial and error
Some children feel better when front loaded 24 hours in advance so they know what to expect the next day. For others, this gives them more time to get anxious about upcoming activities. Take your child’s personality into account when determining how far ahead to start front loading, and remember: finding the right system for you and your family may take some trial and error.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Like any skill, front loading becomes easier with practice. Experiment to find the right schedule and strategies that work for you and then practice your system daily until it becomes second nature. You may be surprised by how many meltdowns you can avoid just by front loading for a few minutes here and there during the day.
If you’ve tried the strategies above and are still struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. MeBe’s experienced Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), and Speech and Language Pathologist (SLPs) can work with you and your family at home or in one of our local MeBe home bases. Start by contacting us today.