How to help children cope with change
One of the reasons children find change such a challenge is that they are creatures of habit. Daily routines make children feel secure, so anything that interferes with these routines has the potential to knock them out of sync and lead to problems.
Some children can adapt sooner than others, and will need less help to manage the stress of change. Change can be obvious, such as moving house, a new baby, or new school. Less obvious change is new work schedules, illness of a family member, bereavement, hospital stay, new teacher, or a friend moving away.
There are a number of things you can do to make the transition for your child smoother. These include:
If you know that a change is about to occur, it is important that you do all that you can to prepare your child. When telling your child about the upcoming event, don’t be too enthusiastic. Instead, be prepared to listen and look at your child’s reactions, to see how he views the event. It is important that you are aware of how your child perceives the change. Remember although you think the change is really positive your child may hold quite a different view. You need to be careful of imposing your upbeat view of the situation. The child who has had the chance to air his worries and apprehensions about the change is much more likely to cope with the new situation.
Talking about upsetting subjects
If the change you and your child is dealing with is a sad event, eg, parent or child going to hospital, dealing with a terminal illness, separation, etc, you need to be honest with your child and explain it in terms he will understand Your first instinct may be to shield him from knowing the truth, but children are emotional thermometers and they pick up on stress levels at home. If they do not have an adequate explanation for the tensions they are detecting, they may worry there is something wrong with them or that they are at fault.
This is why it is important to try to provide your child with an explanation that he can understand and also to be available to him to answer his questions and offer reassurance. Of course if this change is personally very difficult for you, it won’t be easy to deal with your child's pain on top of your own, but often it is at times like these that children most need closeness and reassurance from their parents.
One of the main reasons that change is difficult for young children is the disruption to their routine. Therefore if you and your child are going through a period of change it will help if you can keep many of your child's daily routines the same. Even at the most disruptive of times this should be possible. Mealtimes, for example, are important times of the day for young children, so try to keep these to a regular schedule. Even if you do have to adjust your child’s schedule, eg, to fit in with a new crèche, being consistent in your introduction of a new schedule will help your child adjust quicker
Need for understanding
It is difficult to anticipate which child will cope well with change. While preparation is very important it doesn't guarantee a smooth transition. If your child has difficulty with a new situation, it is important to react calmly and give him the space to adjust.
Parents can feel frustrated with their older child because of his reaction to a new sibling. Having done a lot of preparation work, their older child seemed happy, but once the baby arrives he reacts negatively and becomes difficult to manage. If you can be open to his distress and anxieties, the chances are he will adapt much quicker.
Remember you and your child may adjust to the change at different rates. While you may settle in quite quickly to a new routine or new surroundings, your child may not, so be patient.
It is normal to resist change, after all, have you never looked at your child and wished he would stop growing so fast? This is especially true if you have a child who is happy with your routine.
Yet change is an inevitable part of life; it forces us to grow and adapt to new situations. Parents should not aim to keep everything the same, but simply be aware of a child’s resistance to change and help him make the transitions required of him as he grows.
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