I’ve heard several parents tell me that their children have a hard time when plans change, or when they drop something on them spur of the moment. That is because children like routines and predictability and truthfully, do a lot better when they can predict what is going to happen. That is why your child might struggle with a big change that comes their way. Those changes could include starting school, moving, adjusting to a lifelong illness like Diabetes, having a new baby join the family, having a friend move away, etc. There are several techniques that a parent can use to help toddlers cope with changes and help children cope with changes and here are some to try.
- Acknowledge the change. Lots of the time we get so busy and preoccupied with what is going on in our lives that we can fail to acknowledge the fact that a big change is happening. Talking about this change with your child is important as it can help them prepare for it, understand it, and deal with it as they start to realize that things may not be the same as they use to. If you know a big change is happening, talk about it with your children in order to help them prepare mentally for it. This preparation can help immensely with the transition. If that is not possible, then talking about the details of the change while it is happening will also help your child.
- Validate the emotions your child may be feeling and the experience they are going through. Big changes can elicit several different emotions for your child and being able to validate this and empathetically listen to your child can help the change feel less intense and overwhelming. Let them know that what they are feeling (stress, anxiety, fear, anger) is normal and okay and that it will go away after some time. It can also help them understand the change they are going through as well as teach them that big changes happen in our lives and that they are capable enough to handle them. This is a great way to help teach confidence.
- Try and keep to their schedule and routine as much as possible. “The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule—as much as possible. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning at 8am, gives us an anchor. An anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest.” (Psychology Today, 2017). This “anchor” can be especially helpful for children as they are still learning the proper skills to deal with change and having predictability will help decrease the amount of stress and anxiety they may be feeling.
- Find ways to make change fun. Change can often result in something great, but children may have a hard time understanding that during the change. One mom I know who had her second baby came home from the hospital with a really fun gift for the toddler that she said was from the baby. The toddler was so excited about this gift and that it was from their new addition and the mother reported that this helped the transition greatly. When moving into the new house the child could help buy some new decorations for their room or pick something fun for the yard. While this may not always be possible, this can help the child learn that change can be good and not something to be feared.
- If the child is experiencing anxiety due to change you can try these relaxation exercises to help the child learn how to cope with anxiety and lower their anxious responses. (Post about Relaxation Techniques for Children)
- Do a pros and cons list with the child about the change. This can help you, as the parent, to understand why this change is hard for them, as well as help them look for positives that can come from change. This is a lifelong skill that can be taught as you help them emphasize the positives as well as validate the reasons why the change may be hard. “Change presents us with the opportunity to grow—and it's important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.” (Psychology Today, 2017).
- If the child is having an extra hard time dealing with the big change or has experienced some sort of trauma they may benefit from seeing a mental health professional in order to help them learn healthy and effective coping skills.
Some information taken from: https://www.psychologytoday.co
CeLisa Packer MSW, CSW