Overcoming Resistance to Change in Children with ADHD

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
    Overcoming Change

    Table Color Matters!

    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

Overcoming Resistance

Communication is key!

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.


Talk soon,



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.

6 thoughts on “Overcoming Resistance to Change in Children with ADHD

  1. Some believe that ADHD does not exist. I’m not sure what I believe anymore.

    I believe that everyone is different and labels shouldn’t be put on people.

    I believe that ADHD is in fact a normal condition that some people have and some people don’t. Maybe there are different shades of it?

    I think it seems to go hand in hand with OCD…as you mentioned your son would insist on a particular way of doing the bed time routine, it screamed out OCD to me…

    I know a little about OCD because “sometimes” I am the one who has to check three four or five times that I turned off the gas, or locked the door, or turned off the light.

    Then I think, ah, OCD is probably just another shade of a normal human condition…OCD people being more cautious and anxious at the same time.

    Which leads me to this…

    Anxiety is probably the root cause of many of these so called “labels” that we attach to people.

    Autism…possibly another “normal” condition that some people have and some people don’t.

    My point is this…

    When we put labels on people, those labels stick…even if the label is incorrect or inaccurate…it can affect how someone views themselves…it’s like telling a happy person he is clinically depressed, and before long he might actually start to believe he is depressed and then go through all the symptoms of depression because it is on his mind.

    What are your thoughts on sugar, and other stuff in the diet? Could these be the causes of these “abnormalities” in human behaviour?

    Thanks for an informative and interesting post.


    • Hi James,

      I appreciate your feedback and your position on ADHD. I’m not going to agree or disagree, as I believe everybody has a right to their opinion. I remember when I first took my son to the doctor and started having all of his issues investigated, I didn’t want him to be labeled either. Now that he is 12, though, I’ve learned a lot in the last decade. I understand how a label can be a negative thing. However it can also be a very useful way of helping others to understand why people behave certain ways. Society, overall, is highly judgemental. If my son has a meltdown in the grocery store, I’m automatically a terrible mom. He’s automatically a brat. But what the other patrons don’t know is that the medical conditions that have him labeled are the very trigger for the meltdown. I thought he might have OCD there for awhile as well, but he’s not. He’s got some OCD tendencies, such as the bedtime routine. He has to have some things certain ways or it causes anxiety. But it’s not debilitating to him at all. So I wouldn’t say he has OCD. Many question ADHD because it is so overly diagnosed, and inaccurately. Also because many ineffective parents use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior. There are over a hundred medical conditions that mimic ADHD.

      ADHD is a neurological condition and is completely unrelated to diet, according to science. That being said, my son’s ADHD is secondary to his Epilepsy. As is his Sensory Processing Disorder, his chronic Tic Syndrome, and his Narcolepsy. When we finally figured out that he had Epilepsy just a few years ago, and we started managing the Epilepsy, many of the sensory and ADHD issues became manageable as well. As his Neuropsychologist told us, if the Epilepsy gets worse, everything else will get worse. I don’t know the cause behind his disabilities, I know for a fact his diet is not the cause. That is one of the most common misconceptions with ADHD and I’ve researched that a long time. Did you know that scientists recently linked Autism and other Neurological disorders to women with Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)? Autism, ADHD, Epilepsy, Sensory Processing Disorder…they’re all Neurological disorders, not anxiety disorders.

      I understand what you mean by the labels. I see both sides. I grew up thinking I was stupid because I couldn’t focus on reading a book. My son has spent his first 6 years in the public school system being convinced he’s a failure and not good enough because he doesn’t think as fast as everybody else. When he comes home crying saying, “Mom, why can’t I do anything right?” am I supposed to tell him because you’re not the right type of normal? No, I tell him because he has medical conditions that make things harder for him but that he CAN do it, we just need to find the methods that will work for him. I tell him that his ADHD is a GIFT. That it means he can be more productive than his peers (as his mom is) once he finds his groove. I tell him that his Sensory Disorder is a GIFT because it allows to let him hear more than his peers, and smell more and see more. He’s not depressed that he’s different, he’s depressed that society doesn’t get him. The labels help get funding for research for treatment, therapy, and medications that might help my son have somewhat of a “normal”, healthy life. They MIGHT help to keep him from being suicidal by the age of sixteen due to the fact that society doesn’t understand why he’s different. ADHD is a medical condition, not a label. It is as normal as Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Cancer, and any other medical condition on record.

      My thoughts are that while sugar and other stuff in the diet may cause abnormalties in human behavior, they do not cause Epilepsy. Scientists have already proven they have nothing at all to do with it. And ADHD is not a human behavior, while it impacts human behavior, it is a Neurological condition that a person is born with…as is Autism. That’s my opinion based on 12 years of scientific research on each condition mentioned.

      I very much appreciate your feedback. It gives me the opportunity to discuss these hot topics and try to bring awareness to these commonly misunderstood conditions.

      Thank you!


  2. This post is very informative. I have three kids and my baby usually gets upset when we don’t go to a place as planned. He does not go into meltdown mode but I can see that he is sad. I will take your advice and not let them in on every plan. I think the “if” strategy is a very great one too. You are right about communication. I have found that things go better when I communicate with the kids.

    • Hi there,

      Thank you for the feedback. Yes, communication helps a ton, especially when the kiddos get overly stressed or reliant over things. Please come back and let me know how it works out!


  3. As a psychology student I found this article very informative and interesting; the information is very important, we have to make parents aware of this because it’s a very common symptom in ADHD patients and parents suffer a lot when they don’t know what is happening to their child.

    There is just one problem (I consider) with this strict routine and techniques is that this kids can develop obsessive and/or compulsive thoughts and behaviors, so we have to be aware of that.

    • Hi Carlos,

      Thank you for the feedback. It’s very stressful for both the parents and the children. Understanding what the child is going through is highly beneficial and allows us to help them more effectively. I think routine is important for children as it helps them to plan for what’s next. It helps with sense of direction and with security. I think an overly strict routine could potentially result in the child being overly obsessed with the routine, but that hasn’t happened with my son, other than the bedtime routine which is now not as prevalent with him. I’ve carefully watched any obsessive/compulsive behaviors he’s displayed his entire life as I’ve tried to help him cope with each thing, but he doesn’t have anything at all that he’s obsessed with at this point. The techniques I’ve shared seem to be working very well with him as now I can change our plans on the spot with very little pushback or emotion. He’s able to adapt to changing situations now which is great progress.

      Thanks again for sharing and good luck with your studies!


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