Change is a part of life – some love it and some hate it. Either way, most adults have learned to cope in ways that make change and transitions seem manageable. However, for children this is often a difficult area, as they may not yet have developed the skills to “go with the flow” or envision the future.
Transitions and changes can present differently for every family, and every child. Therefore, it is important to consider that the issue usually has more to do with the child’s perception of the transition or change rather than the event itself. A few examples of these changes might include the following: your family may be moving homes, a new school year is beginning, your child is starting a new after-school activity, a new sibling is arriving, or perhaps he or she is beginning the college search. For kids, these types of events may be anxiety-producing, startling, encouraging, or perhaps unimportant.
Regardless of the significance or timing, most changes can be managed well when kids feel prepared and confident about what is to come. Consider the following to help your child become more adaptable and resilient:
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
When changes or transitions are unexpected or sudden, even the most flexible child can feel unsettled. Having open and honest conversations with your child is the best way to combat any sort of worry or apprehension. Often, when children know the answers to “what,” “where,” “why,” “when” and “how,” they will feel more prepared and relaxed for what is to come. Consider utilizing a calendar, schedule or countdown, as this will be helpful for your child to refer to as change approaches. These tools will make the abstract notion of time more concrete and visual for your child.
“Acting out” behaviors and rigid thinking may be a sign of anxiety. Children and adolescents sometimes do not have emotional regulation skills and have trouble with communicating their feelings. In some cases, kids are unaware of their anxiety or worry. When children lack emotional awareness and expression skills, these feelings are typically displayed in outbursts and other unpleasant ways. They can become easily frustrated, irritable, stubborn, or inflexible as a mean to control the changing situation. Be patient with your child and encourage him or her to express those worries and emotions in more appropriate ways.
Keep it short and sweet.
Refrain from blurring the parent/child boundary. It is typically important to provide enough details to answer the major questions (“what,” “where,” “why,” “when” and “how”), but it is not wise to give children so much information that they begin to know “grown up stuff.” Sometimes, when children acquire too many details it becomes overwhelming, causing them more worry or stress. Try to keep conversations age-appropriate and concise. Don’t forget about praise and encouragement. It is important to reward and praise your child for the smallest of efforts he or she is making to adapt to change. When your child feels supported, he or she will gain the confidence to repeat the behaviors and better adapt to the change.
And lastly, take a moment to reflect.
How can this transition or change benefit the child and/or family? What can your child learn from this experience? How will this challenge, or help him/her in the future? If your child can be resilient in this moment, what else can he or she accomplish?
Life is about learning new experiences and change is part of life.