How to Help Children Work Through Change

Whether it is a change in routine, family structure, a new home, or other circumstances, it can be difficult for our children to understand and handle change. Even something that seems small or insignificant to us (such as a new blanket at bedtime), can cause some children stress or anxiety. While older children may be able to verbalize their feelings, younger children may not. More often, younger children will show their unease rather than tell us that there is something wrong. Some of the more common behaviors of children that are having trouble with change are:

“Loss of appetite.

Sleep problems.

Become withdrawn.

Anxious, clingy, exhibit anger or aggressive behavior.

Complain of headaches, stomach pains, or over sensitive to minor scrapes.

Lose interest in things that earlier interested them.

Have a tough time concentrating at school.

Might not listen to what they’re told, attention seeking, and throw tantrums.” (Singh)

Luckily, there are many ways we can help our children to better manage their feelings in a productive and healthy way. We, as parents and caretakers, are the most influential people in our children’s lives, and we have the biggest impact on how they are able to work through difficult situations. Modeling behaviors that we want our children to imitate during times of difficulty can be a very helpful way for them to learn these positive methods of coping with stress. Marleena Singh suggests that you “(l)et your children know of the changes in life you have undergone as an example, and how you managed them.”

Another helpful strategy to help your children is to preserve as much stability and routine as possible. The more predictable a child’s life is, the better he or she is able to cope with other, unavoidable changes. “They feel secure when they know what’s chalked out for the day, or what they have to do next. They like to know how their parents will behave or react, and what will happen from day to day.” (Singh)

It is also best to talk to children honestly about what will happen, even if the truth about the situation may upset them. They will feel more prepared if they have some time to process the new information and feelings, knowing that you are there for them when they are struggling and need you the most. “While helping kids deal with change, you need to be prepared to weather the storm too. There will be tears, tantrums, sad times, followed by parental guilt. It’s all part of the process, and remember it can take your child time to adjust-so remain calm. Accept your children for who and what they are.” (Singh) Fortunately, most kids are resilient and will recover quickly when something changes in their world, especially with love and guidance from parents and other important adults in their lives. Learning to cope with change is an important life skill, and the more practice they have managing change in a positive way, the more successful they will be at this skill later in life.