Preparing Your Child for Big Changes
Life is all about adapting and changing, but for kids it isn’t that easy. Moving, gaining a new sibling, going to a new school, dealing with divorce, handling new medical conditions--these are just a few of the many things that can really rock a child's world.
Navigating these experiences can be stressful. Providing our children with structure and stability will help them develop skills to make them more resilient in the face of future changes. Here are a few strategies to help guide your children through big changes:
Prep Your Child
One of the biggest mistakes parents can make with a big change or event is to down-play it or avoid addressing it altogether. It’s best to not surprise your child with big changes. Give them plenty of time to cope, and help them understand what will happen.
Explain what the change will look like to them using terms and examples that they can easily understand. There are plenty of children's books that can help you explain things in a way they can relate to and comprehend.
Listen to your child's concerns, validate her feelings, and meet her with compassion and understanding.
Keep to a Routine
Children thrive on a routine. Bedtime routines, morning routine, school routines--structure and consistency feel good to children. Unfortunately, big changes often remove routines from the equation, so do the best you can to try and keep to what is comfortable for your child during times of stressful changes. Don’t pile on any unnecessary changes.
For example, don’t move your toddler to a big bed in the middle of move. It may seem like a good idea to “kill two birds with one stone” and make the change since you're moving everything anyway, but giving your child some consistency within the move will actually help him adjust better. Wait until he feels comfortable in his new surroundings before adjusting his bed situation.
Sleep and mealtime routines are the most important! Keeping your child well-rested and fed on a predictable schedule will help him/her adapt and curb some unwanted behavior.
Undivided attention and playful connection are both things your child thrives on. Remind your child that your connection is something that will remain constant. They love attention. They love playing. So when they are feeling anxious and stressed, having mom or dad spend some undivided attention with them can be exactly what they need to regulate themselves.
Set aside ten minutes everyday for one-on one time where they will have you all to themselves, without any distractions. When you feel tensions are high and things are starting to spiral, it may also be the perfect time to regroup with a one-on-one playdate.
Big changes equal big feelings. Keep your composure and try responding to your child’s frustrations calmly, and with empathy and patience. They’re navigating uncharted territory.
During big changes and events, children feel like they have no control. Offering them choices and letting them help when appropriate gives them back some control. Allowing them to help pack during a move, pick out clothing for a new sibling, and so on. Giving them a little control can greatly help calm their nerves.