How to Discipline Your Children When They Resist Change


“No! Mommy do it!” your son shrieks as your husband tries to give him a bath, a job he says is “Mommy’s”! Change can be hard for people, but it’s particularly difficult for the under-six set. It’s even more trying for children born with a temperament that wants everything to be routine and predictable. Preschoolers haven’t had much experience adjusting to change, so when you ask your little guy to get ready to leave when he’s immersed in playing with a friend, he’s likely to have a meltdown. Finding security in predictable sameness is common in little people, but sometimes the need for security borders on absolute inflexibility. Help reticent children learn how to go with the flow, to increase their chances of rolling with the punches as they grow.

Brat Girl

Preventing the Problem

Provide a mistake-friendly environment.

By sending your child a no-big-deal message when he makes a mistake, you help him learn that no one’s perfect. This lesson will serve him well as he gets experience bouncing back from a problem. Say, “I’m sorry you spilled your milk. Let’s see how we can clean it up. Everyone has accidents.”

Teach decision-making skills.

Your child wants to feel as if he’s the master of his fate, so allow him to make simple decisions. Choosing between two cereals, two pairs of socks, and two games to play, for example, gives him a sense of control over his world.

Respect your child’s individuality.

You may have made friends with change long ago, but your child might have a more difficult time because his temperament might be different. Understand that each child has a unique temperament, even within the same family. Avoid saying, “Don’t be like that!” when your child’s inflexible feathers are ruffled. Instead, say, “I know it’s hard for you to change babysitters. But you can handle it. It’ll be okay.”

Remind children that they belong.

We all want to feel that we fit in with a particular group. So frequently tell your child that he’s a valued member of your family, and encourage his participation by asking him to help out around the house. Say, “Thanks for picking up your toys and putting them away. You’re helping our home look nice and neat.”

What to Do

Build resilience.

Resilient children look at change as a challenge to be overcome. On the other hand, inflexible children resist change as much as possible. Telling your child he gets to do something rather than has to do it will transform his feelings of fear and loss of control into feelings of excitement. Help him build this framework for change by saying, for example, “You get to have a new babysitter tonight. She’s going to be lots of fun. Isn’t it exciting getting to know someone new?”

Teach your child how to handle change.

Children who are shown how to deal with change are more prepared to meet the challenge. For example, say, “This new shirt is very nice. Not getting to wear your old blue one is no big deal. You’ll feel so good wearing your new yellow one today.”

Set goals for accepting change.

Children feel more in control of their destiny if they have ample time to think about and prepare themselves for change. You can help your child accept change more readily by having him set goals for handling change. For example, say, “We’re going to the zoo with your class tomorrow. It’ll be fun. Let’s set a goal of having a good time at the zoo.” Then periodically remind him of the goal and have him repeat it to you. Ask him, “What’s your goal about going to the zoo?” When he says, “I’m going to the zoo to have fun ” say, “That’s right, you’re going to the zoo to have a good time.”

Teach problem solving.

When children are confronted with change and don’t know what to do, giving them limited choices helps them see their options. For example, say, “I know you don’t want to move into the big bed. Let’s think about what we can do to make it easier. Maybe you could take your teddy bear into the big bed with you, and he’ll keep you company while you’re there.”

Discipline Child

The Cup and Bowl Caper

What Not to Do

Don’t meet resistance with anger.

Children who are upset by change need lots of support and empathy to reduce their anxiety Getting angry with your child for being inflexible only increases his sense of helplessness.

Don’t overreact to mistakes.

Getting upset when your child tracks dirt into the house tells him he isn’t loveable if he makes mistakes, which (because he’s a preschooler) he’ll probably do many times a day. Treat mistakes as no big deal. Show him how to correct his behavior by treating mistakes as teachable, not terrorizing, moments. Say, “Please get the paper towels so we can clean this up. When we work together, we can have it cleaned up in no time.

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About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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