Updated: Sep 2, 2021
This is our second year in a pandemic and our lives are very much different from before. It is likely that your child has experienced many changes some big and small throughout this time. While changes are inevitable, that doesn't make it any easier for children or adults!
Children need structure and stability to feel safe and secure. This safety and security are perfect ingredients for developing children to thrive. So new experiences like divorce, moving, going to a new school, transitioning to online learning, or welcoming a new sibling can be very scary.
As children experience these changes, they develop and strengthen their skills of resilience. However, children who are experiencing major life changes do need extra support in addressing their feelings, understanding and adjusting to new changes, and learning strategies and skills to cope along the way. We've put together 5 ways you can help your child feel safe, adjust, and build resilience.
Give Your Child Time to Prepare
There are some changes, however, like the unexpected death of a loved one where preparation is simply not possible. But when preparation is a possibility, give your child plenty of warning that a major change is coming. You can do this by talking about the scenarios and hashing out the things that might happen and allow your child to ask as many questions. This will allow them some time to process and begin to accept the change.
It also gives you time to familiarize your child with what is unfamiliar. If you are moving somewhere new, take your child to look at the new house and/or new school or neighborhood. You can arrange for your child to meet their teachers in advance and do a tour of the school. You can also ask the teachers to talk to your child about what a typical day is like at their new school or even show other students photos and fun activities.
If the life change is about divorce, it is important to show your child where the other parent will be living. We understand that in some cases this might not be possible. But you can do other things like tour the neighborhood and highlight any interesting or exciting things about it.
If you’re having a baby, you can show your children pictures of themselves as babies. Do talk about what to expect when the new baby comes, for example, feeding and diaper changes. You can also tell your children about all the ways they can be great big brothers or sisters.
Listen to Their Concerns
It is not uncommon for children to resist changes or talking about changes. They might not have the reaction you are looking for. It is always important to focus on all the great things that come with a big life change but do also take some time to listen to your child's point of view, questions and address any concerns they may have. You can do this by identifying the feelings they have as this can help them work through the emotions that they’re feeling.
By acknowledging and validating their feelings it becomes a vital learning experience; shielding them teaches them nothing. You can say things like, “We are moving to a new place. I know that it can feel sad and scary. But it is okay to feel that way. I feel that way sometimes too! But I know it's going to be a fun time for our family so let’s take some deep breaths together.”
If you find that your child struggles to name what they are feeling, help them label the emotion (e.g., anxious, sad, nervous, worried, or scared). Putting a name to the feeling makes it less overwhelming and easier to manage.
If your child is concerned about when they will see the other parent after a divorce, for example, buy a calendar and put stickers on each day they will spend with the other parent.
If they are worried that you will never spend time with them after the new baby comes, talk about different activities that you will still do together. Remind them they can still ask for an extra hug or kiss whenever they need it.
For children who are moving to school and anxious about making friends, roleplay potential scenarios and conversations. You may also find that you don't have an answer to everything, and that’s okay. Be honest. It is more than enough when your child feels heard and acknowledged.
Read Books About Big Life Changes
There are plenty of children’s books written to help kids cope with major life changes. Books help your child understand that they are not alone in experiencing these types of changes. They also provide encouraging words, helpful advice, and the knowledge that everything will be okay in the end.
One Big Change At a Time
When a major change happens, it’s important to give your child as much consistency and stability as possible. Do your best to stick to your usual schedule and routines, and don’t facilitate any additional changes that may further upset your child.
For example, if your child is still sleeping in a crib, don’t transition your child from the crib to a new bed while they are feeling anxious about becoming an older sibling. Your child's bedtimes and mealtimes should remain consistent and unchanged. This structure feels safe for children, so provide as much of it as possible to restore a sense of safety. Once they are settled, then introduce a new change.
Provide Connection and Play
Now things will change, Our lives will continue to evolve. But through it, all, make sure your child knows that no matter what else changes, you are not going anywhere, and neither is the bond you have with your child.
Try to set aside at least 10 minutes each day to give your child some undivided attention. Make plenty of eye contact, put your phone away, and just be playful and affectionate.
If your child is older, provide joint attention like watching the same movie, or share a meal at your child’s favorite restaurant. A little extra attention and parent-child playtime reassure your child that your love and care will remain consistent, making it much easier to cope with changes in other aspects of life.
After all these steps and tips, the once scary changes don't seem so scary after all. Discuss the changes from the past and celebrate how far you've come! Along the way, both you and your child will continue to learn new skills for handling the changes that inevitably occur in life!