Executive Skills Needed:   1. Emotional control, and 2. Flexibility.

    Steps to take:   Helping your child accept changes in plans without anger or distress involves some advance work and lots of practice. Whenever possible, you need to present your agenda for your child ahead of time. Before the child has formulated his/her own plan for that time period. Meanwhile, you start introducing the child to small changes on a regular basis, gradually increasing the child’s tolerance for surprises over time.

    1. Sit down with your child and establish a schedule of activities and tasks. This might mean creating some organization and routine for the day, or it might mean simply making a list of events that are already part of a routine. Include any activity that is a “have to” as far as you’re concerned (mealtimes, bedtime, etc.) and any regular activity (such as lessons and sports).
    2. Try not to attach precise times to the activities unless necessary (as with sports events and lessons), using time ranges instead. For example, dinner might be around 5:00p.m., which could be between 4:30 and 5:30.
    3. Talk with your child about the fact that changes or “surprises” can always come up despite plans and schedules established in advance. Give example: instead of fish for dinner, we have pizza; you get to play outside for an extra 20 minutes; we have to go to the dentist today.
    4. Create a visual for the schedule, such as activities written on a card or a series of pictures, and post it in at least two places, such as the kitchen and your child’s room. Make a “Surprise!” card for the schedule and explain that when a change is coming, you will show him the card, say what the change is, and put it on the schedule. (Even when a change comes up that’s a surprise to everyone, you can pull out the card and follow the same process.)
    5. Review the schedule with your child either the night before and/or the morning of the day.
    6. Start to introduce changes and show the Surprise card. Initially, these should be pleasant, such as extra playtime, going out for ice cream, playing a game with a parent. Gradually introduce more “neutral” changes (apple juice for orange juice, one cereal for another, etc.) Eventually, include less pleasant changes (can’t do a planned activity because of weather).


    Modifications/Adjustments:  If the Surprise card and the gradual introduction of changes are not sufficient, there are a few other approaches to consider.

    1. When possible, introduce the change well before the event. This gives your child time to adjust gradually rather than quickly.
    2. Depending on his/her reaction to less pleasant change (crying resisting, complaining), talk about other behaviors the child could use that would allow for protest in an acceptable way (such as filling out a Complaint Form).
    3. You also can provide a reward for successfully managing the change.
    4. Keep in mind that reactivity to change decreases with the amount of exposure that the child has and the success he has in negotiating it. As long as the exposure is gradual and does not initially involve situations that are frustrating or threatening, you child can become more flexible.


    Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2009). Smart but Scattered. New York: The Guilford Press. P. 178-179.



    Daily Schedule:   Date: _________

















    Complaint Form:   Date: _________



    Nature of complaint:





    Why you think the situation was unfair:






    What you wish had happened:


    From Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  Copyright 2009 by The Guilford Press. P. 180.