Self Esteem

Help Your Child Embrace Change

Transitions can be difficult for kids with ADHD, who thrive on structure and familiarity. Here, six ways to make change less scary, from making sure they’re prepared to employing helpful technology.

Parent Help Your Child Embrace Change mother and daughter on rocks

Life is filled with new adventures for young kids with ADHD. Change is always on the way, and our kids have a tough time managing transitions, big or small. They find it hard to process experiences quickly or to shift to new tasks and situations.

Their growing brains thrive on structure and consistency.

Think about the changes that are part of growing up: starting school, getting to know new teachers, moving to a new town, ending the school year, starting summer, playing on a sports team, adjusting to a new babysitter. Each of these brings stress and anxiety.

Parents are sometimes confused by their child’s reactions even to small changes. With insufficient life experiences to cope with the unknowns of change, children with ADHD have “transition trauma.” They may have temper tantrums, regress to babyish behaviors, or say “No” to everything you ask. If your young child is whining and irritable — and it is not due to being tired or hungry — look to the latest transition he or she is facing for the cause.

A family came in to see me about a problem they had with their daughter, who was about to start kindergarten. “What can be bothering her? Why is she so unhappy?” They had already taken their daughter to a pediatrician. Physical causes were ruled out as the reason for her behaviors.

[Free Handout: The ADHD Library for Parents]

After several sessions with the girl, we figured out what was bothering her. “I don’t want to go to the big-girl school,” she said. Her cousin had told her that she would have to do lots of hard work in kindergarten, and that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the “fun centers,” as she did in preschool.

Her parents had been so excited about her transition to kindergarten that she was afraid to tell them that she was scared. All was made right when she visited the school. The teacher was caring, the classroom was cheery, and, it had fun centers for learning.

As your child with ADHD faces transitions, here are some ways to calm his fears:

1. Prepare your child for change. Visit the new school or the new home ahead of time. Have a new babysitter come over and meet your child before you head out to a movie or dinner. Your child will know what he will be facing.

[Free Resource: 10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child]

2. Notice how you convey your feelings. Kids can spot false optimism from the speaker’s body language and by listening in on conversations with others. If you feel negative about change, your child will pick up on it. Talk with your child and explain the up- and downside to an upcoming change. Finish up with optimistic comments suggesting that all will be well.

3. Have him read a book about the topic. If the change is one that many kids go through, such as attending a new school, a divorce, or the loss of a pet, children’s books are helpful. Your child will see how others have made the transition.

4. Use technology. Head online to make a scary, vague change more concrete for your child. A new school may have photos or videos posted to YouTube or its Facebook page. If you’ll be moving, look at pictures of your new house on the real estate listing or Google Maps Street View.

5. Tell kids when the rules change. If your child is changing bedrooms, explain the bedroom routine again — what is daytime behavior, what is nighttime behavior, and where his clothes and toys belong. It may seem simple to the adult, but not to a young child with ADHD.

6. Have a chat. Listening and empathizing with your child’s feelings will reassure her. Let her talk about the change before she has to make it. It will help.