Overcoming Resistance to Change
Overcoming resistance to change in anybody is a rather complex task. For the ADHD child, the key is to start early. It can be a bit tricky to pinpoint when your young child is resistant to change, though. My son was about 3 years old when I began to figure it out. There were a few major events that helped me pin point it:
- #1 – Due to trouble getting him to go to sleep at night, we quickly developed a bedtime routine when he was two years old. Take a bath, put pajamas on, brush teeth, ready a story, tuck in time, and goodnight. After tucking him in, I would say, “I love you.” He would say, “I love you too.” I would say, “Sweet dreams.” He would reply with the same. I would say, “Goodnight.” He would respond, “Goodnight.” Then we would repeat each, twice, as I left the room. This was absolutely the exact way it had to go every single night. If we messed up any part of the routine, for example if I accidentally said sweet dreams first or if I only repeated it all once, we would have to start completely over or he would have a meltdown.
- #2 – I took a different route home from work one day when he was three years old. I was travelling on an
expressway that I usually didn’t take but wanted to save time that day. All of a sudden, my son looks out the window and starts screaming at the top of his lungs. I pulled over thinking he got his finger stuck in a toy or something in the backseat or something. He had gone into a full meltdown. I calmed him down and asked him what was wrong. He said, “This isn’t the way home, we’re lost!” I explained to him that we weren’t lost, that I had taken a different way home today and I knew exactly where we were. He calmed down but he was very emotional and fearful the rest of the way home.
- #3 – That same year, while he was 3, the day care called me at work because he had went full meltdown mode and was hyperventilating. I asked them what triggered the meltdown. They explained that they needed to move some kids around and they moved him from the Green table to the Blue table. That upset him so bad, he was hyperventilating.
Once I figured out that it was all related to an unexpected change to his routine, I started trying new strategies to help him with overcoming changes.
Step #1 – Get On the Same Page
Believe it or not, this is a very important step, possibly the most important. Any immediate family spending time with the child on a routine basis should understand they’re resisting change and should work together with help in overcoming it. Using my son as an example, he and I lived alone so there weren’t family members in house that we had to work with. However, we went to visit my parents almost every Saturday when they lived close. At first, when we thought of fun things to do with him or fun places to go, we would tell him the plans. The intentions were good, we wanted to get him excited about doing something fun the following weekend. But then we found that when something happened and the plans fell through, it caused major meltdowns. Over time, we learned to stop telling him our plans and start getting him used to being surprised. That way, when an unexpected storm comes through and ruins the plans for a day at the beach, it didn’t devastate him.
Step #2 – Don’t Set Plans in Stone
As parents, it’s only natural for us to want to get our kids excited about something. Unfortunately, it’s not natural to plan on plans failing. We don’t often consider how it will impact them if plans do fail. It simply isn’t necessary to let them in on all of the plans…even when they are resistant to change. I learned to only tell my son the plans when they pulled him out of his regular routine, such as doctor and dentist appointments. My son quickly learned that when we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, sometimes we’d end up going somewhere fun. But other times we would simply stay for lunch and visit. He never knew which. And he learned to value the fun times as well as the quality visits all while not relying on plans.
Step #3 – Give Advanced Warning
Obviously, we can’t prevent change from occurring. Sometimes it happens. When it does, or when our plans
fail, it causes serious anxiety in those that are resistant to change. Children have to be taught to cope with change. We can’t just wish them the best. We have to teach them the importance of overcoming it as well as the coping mechanisms to accomplish such a feat. One of the first things I tried was very simple, talk to him. Communicating the change as soon as you become aware of it may just be the most effective method of helping them get through it. When we took a different way home from school, I would tell him as he got in the car. That way he knows before he sees anything unfamiliar and feels fearful. I asked the teachers to start doing the same. If you need to move his table, just talk to him. Give him the reason and the timeframe. Give him a few minutes to adjust to the change before expecting normal behavior.
These are the big three strategies I used. Here we are ten years later, my son is 12 now, and he handles most changes very well. Moving desks became normal at school because teachers were doing it regularly to try finding a place in the classroom that was more effective for him. I’ve made our home very spontaneous. Routine, but spontaneous. We don’t go grocery shopping the same day each week. We don’t have a set schedule unless we have to. Certain things are routine, such as bed time. When we do make plans, I always give a disclaimer that they could change. If the weather is nice, if you finish your chores, if nothing comes up, as a few examples. This seems to work very well with him. Find what works, and stick with it. But always remember that communication will be one of your biggest keys to overcoming resistance to change.
For additional strategies for helping your children in overcoming change, check out this book by Deborah M. Plummer which is packed full of creative ideas to help children cope with change, stress, and anxiety. It gives a lot of explanation behind their feelings along with over a hundred fun activities to help teach healthy stress management strategies.