Helping Children Deal with Change

October 22, 2013

What is change for a child? As parents and caregivers of children we tend to be vigilant about the big changes in our children's lives-death, divorce and a family move, and certainly these are very valid and can be very traumatizing.

But to understand change and stress in the lives of our little ones we must look through a new lens, wear a new hat and get out of the adult perspective for what seem like small changes for us can cause huge emotional turmoil for our children.

Possible Stressful Situations:

  • mom or dad has changed their working hours bringing a change in routine
  • a change in bedtime/bath habits
  • the end of a recreational class or the school year
  • a new babysitter or nanny
  • any new social situation
  • losing or breaking a favourite toy
  • communication problems/frustration with being understood
  • rejection by a friend or a friend moving away

The list is endless and of course does not include the obvious upheaval of a new sibling in the family. Children like routine. Adjusting to all of the above can be difficult and all children react differently to change. Many children adapt easily to a new school, taking the changes and challenges in stride. Many other children show signs of anxiety and stress. How your child adapts to change will depend on his temperament, personality, and your family’s circumstances.

Behavior Your Child May Demonstrate When Stressed:

  • clingy
  • moody or irritable
  • angry
  • sad
  • anxious
  • afraid
  • less sociable than usual

As well children may resume bed wetting or start playing with more childish toys than usual.

How to Help

  • Talk with your child about what she is feeling and be a good listener.
  • Acknowledge your child’s worries and fears. Allow your child to feel angry, sad, and confused during times of change. These feelings are normal and your child needs to express them.
  • Offer extra love, encouragement, and support during this time. Do what you can to simplify your family life so that you can focus on your child’s needs.
  • Prepare your child for upcoming change when possible. Talk about what will happen and what the change will mean for all of you. If your child is going to a new school, visit the school before the first day of class. Similarly, if you are moving out of town, if possible, visit your new neighborhood with your child before you move.
  • Be more available during times of change. For example, if your child has a hard time at the beginning or end of the school year, try to be more available during these times.
  • Try to involve your child in decisions about the change. Small choices like choosing clothes for the first day of school and a colour for his new room can make a difference.

The Larger Picture-Skills for Life

One of the most important skills you can help your child develop is the ability to deal with change. You can help your child develop the skills to handle change by understanding your child’s needs and by offering encouragement and support.

  • Help your child mark the change. If your child’s best friend is moving away, help your child mark the occasion (card or gift) Keep goodbyes simple and low key.
  • Teach your child that maintaining routines helps her to cope. Knowing what to expect helps your child feel grounded and secure, especially during times of transition. Demonstrate this by maintaining family routines around bedtime, TV, and family meals as much as possible.
  • Encourage your child, when old enough, to write about worries in a journal.
  • Demonstrate a positive attitude. If you are confident about an upcoming change, your child will be positive, too. This becomes a great life habit.
  • By your behaviour show your child positive ways to handle change. Talk about how you feel and show him how you make lists to help you stay focussed and organized.

Life is change. As the caregivers and parents of children it is our responsibility to help children learn to accept and handle what will be inevitable in their lives... namely, that things will not remain the same... and to know that that is a good thing.