Helping Kids Cope with Change

By Jolita Peterson

For adults, a major life change, even a welcome one, can be daunting. Whether we are moving house, having another baby or starting a new job – every change brings its challenges. For a child, however, such an adjustment can be overwhelming. Helping our children learn to handle change in healthy ways is part of our role as parents.

Know Your Child

The first key to effectively helping your child through the change process is to know his or her personality. Some kids are naturally more flexible and can handle unexpected changes. Such children may not need as much preparation ahead of time, but can be given information shortly before the event. Other children thrive on structure and routine, and may need plenty of time to adjust to the expected change. These kids will benefit from knowing exactly what to expect and when. Still other children may have high anxiety levels, and should be given enough information to be prepared, but not too much that triggers unnecessary stress. The age of the child should also be taken into account. Older children can typically handle more detailed knowledge than younger ones, and may resent being left out of the communication loop if they are not informed.

Check Your Attitude

Almost every major change has a mix of positives and negatives, so it’s normal for emotions to run the gamut. In general, though, our kids take their emotional cues from us. Our own attitude sets the tone and establishes the framework through which they will view the upcoming change. If we are nervous or anxious about what’s to come, they will mirror our anxiety. But if we can embrace an optimistic outlook, chances are our children will follow suit. Even if the event is unwelcome, adopting an accepting mindset will help our children cope.

Plan Ahead

Preparing for the transition ahead of time can help alleviate anxiety and reduce the likelihood for potential glitches down the road. Of course, some things cannot be planned for, but having a plan of action certainly helps! Tools like diaries, to-do lists and countdowns can help the whole family be on the same page. Again, older children can be involved in the planning, which often helps relieve anxiety.

Here are some tips to help your children prepare for an upcoming change:

  • Create a countdown calendar to the big day (moving day, baby’s due date, first day of school, etc.). Ideas include a paper chain, with a link to tear off each day; a traditional calendar with boxes to cross off, or a sticker calendar.
  • Talk about it – include the change in everyday conversation, talking about what will happen when it arrives. Be realistic about what will be different – don’t pretend things will be exactly the same.
  • Do some research with your child to find out more (e.g. fetal development, look up info on the new location, etc.).
  • Help your child make a connection with someone going through a similar transition, such as a pen pal in the new location or another kid who recently became a big sister.
  • Make sure some things stay the same, even in the midst of change. If your child thrives on structure, for example, try to keep the same bedtime routine every night. During a move, be sure your child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal with him and allow older children to keep in touch with their friends from back home. This will provide a sense of normalcy, even while everything else is different.

Change is a part of life, and typically involves both highs and lows. With a bit of intentional preparation, however, we can help our children navigate the changes in life and make the potential bumps a bit smoother.