Everyone deals with change on a daily basis. For your child, this could mean a new babysitter or a cancellation of their favorite TV show. On occasion, we have to deal with bigger changes like the loss of a family member or pet, a move to a new home or city, or a divorce in the family.
Change is often coupled with sadness and uncertainty. However, it can also induce anticipation and excitement. There are ways you can help your child make the best of the situation; understand their needs and offer encouragement, support, and compassion.
Common Side Effects of Big Life Changes
Children like routine; any change in their routine can be upsetting. All children will react differently. And the side effects can be of varying duration. A child’s ability to adapt to change will be affected by his or her temperament, personality, and family circumstance. In general, you can expect your child to be clingy, moody, irritable, angry, sad, anxious, afraid, and/or less sociable than usual.
Also, it isn’t uncommon for children to regress and take a step back in development or behavior. For example, your child might start wetting the bed again. Or, you child might develop new habits like sucking his or her thumb.
Every child will handle change differently. However, if you feel your child hasn’t returned to “normal” after a month, you might want to consider professional assistance. See if your school has a psychologist. Or, schedule an appointment with the guidance counselor or pediatrician.
How to Prepare for Change
There is no way to make a major life change easy. However, there are ways to make it less stressful. Consider these tips:
- Talk about what will happen. Explain to your child the upcoming event/process and what the child can expect. Discuss any positives the situation might bring. Answer your child’s questions as best you can.
- Talk about your child’s worries and fears. Your child will probably feel angry, sad and/or confused. Let your child get those feelings out in the open. Don’t diminish their importance. If possible, tell your child how you can relate to his or her feelings and how you handled a similar situation in the past.
- Plan ahead. If you are moving to a new town, take the child for a visit before the move. Check out local parks. Meet the new neighbors. If your child will be attending a different school, ask to be introduced to the teachers. Check out the school’s website together. If your child’s friend is moving away, host a goodbye party, let your child make a special card, or shop for a going away present. Also, enlist the help of other people who are important in your child’s life – teachers, church leaders, daycare provider.
How to Deal with Change as it Happens
Not all changes are anticipated. Sometimes big life events happen unexpectedly. Here are some tips for dealing with both anticipated and unanticipated changes.
- Try to spend extra time with your child. Minimize activities in your work and personal life so you can be available during the transition time.
- Include your child in the decision making process. Granted, your youngster can’t help with big choices like which house to buy or which school to attend. However, your son can decide which color to paint his new bedroom. Your daughter can pick her first-day-of-school outfit.
- Stick to your normal routine. If children know what to expect, it will help keep them grounded. Adhere to your child’s normal bedtime, mealtime, etc.
- Minimize other changes. Don’t stir up more drama than your child can handle. For example, if your family is going through a divorce, don’t send your youngster off to summer camp.
- Make sure everyone – parents and children – is getting plenty of sleep, exercise and healthy foods. People who are well-rested and generally healthy tend to have better coping mechanisms.
- Be optimistic. If you are confident about the outcome of the change, your child will be too.
Children (and most adults!) appreciate routine. Change that routine and unexpected emotions and behaviors could emerge. Try to remain compassionate, understanding, and positive about changes and your child will learn to cope too.
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Guest blogger Logan Green works for a divorce attorney, found at http://theclearwaterattorney.com/clearwater-divorce-lawyer. He helps hundreds of clients each year. Unfortunately, he has witnessed firsthand the stress and sadness associated with divorce and how it affects everyone involved.