Help Kids Deal with Change
Photo courtesy of Kristi Shanks Photography
Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., Sylvan Learning
Change is like clouds, constantly changing yet constant. Still, we humans resist it, clinging to comfortable patterns and routines. If you think you’re not a creature of habit, try changing your morning routine just a little and see how it can throw your whole day off.
Now, think what it can do to kids.
Kids go through lots of change. Their favorites change – toys, clothes, bedtime stories, foods. Their friends change, sometimes painfully. Their teachers change, their classes change, and their schools change as they get older. Their interests change. Sometimes their families change. Their emotions certainly change. In adolescence, that can be hourly.
Some changes are easy, some take a little adjustment, and others are downright grim, so it’s a major role of us adults in their lives – their parents and teachers – to help them adjust to the difficult ones. The broken friendships, the move to another neighborhood, the divorce or other family loss, or the unfamiliar scary new school.
Kids like their familiar life patterns. They feel safe. Change threatens that.Here are some tips that can make change a little less unsettling. They come from my own experience in classrooms and from help I’ve gotten from guidance counselor friends as well as other parents. They’re worth a try when your kids are resisting change.
- Give them an active role. Help kids be an active, not passive, part of the change. As much as possible, involve them. Give them choices when you can. Ask their opinions. Invite them to help with decisions. Listen to them. “At our new house where is the best place in the back yard for the swing set? What do you think?”
- Help them envision the change. Be as descriptive as you can about the new house, the new community, the new school. Use pictures. When kids can “see” in their mind what a new situation offers, they’re more apt to resist it less. “This is where your bedroom will be. Look at how big it is.”
- Share information. The more the better. As you learn more about a change, share what you know with the kids. When they feel you’re holding something from them, rumors begin. “I’ve just learned where my work will be taking us. Let’s look up this new place on the internet together and learn a little about it.”
- Take it one step at a time. Just as we tell kids to break up big projects into little ones to make the work easier, do the same thing with big change. Don’t expect kids to adjust to lots of changes all at once. Concentrate on the more immediate ones first.
- Give them time to get used to the idea. Kids are resilient and strong, but they still need time to adjust to new circumstances. Be patient. Ask their feelings, their opinions, their ideas, and their fears. Don’t interrupt. Listen. The first act of love is to listen. Be there for them.
- Show your commitment. As with everything else in their lives, kids look to us adults for guidance in how to act. When you show your commitment to a change – or your adjustment to it – they will take their cue from you. “This new school is going to be just right for you and your interests.”
- Let them know what you expect of them. Life is easier when we know what’s expected of us. Kids will follow our directions during a big change if we’re clear about what we all need to do together.
- Recognize their need for familiarity. Kids love the familiar. Why do you think they ask for Green Eggs and Ham over and over, or would eat mac n’ cheese every night if you let them, or wear their favorite shirt all week? Help them discover new familiar routines and patterns quickly.
- Anticipate their doubts. Doubt is a natural part of change. “Can I do this?” You know your kids best; what will they worry about? Make plenty of time to talk to them, to ask them what’s on their mind, and to dispel as many fears as you can. When you don’t know an answer, find out together.
- Stay positive. Our moods affect kids’ moods. It’s okay to talk about your concerns, but be sure to show an air of confidence that as a family you’ll work out all the kinks together. Find plenty of time to see humor in the unexpected, laugh at absurdities, and build determination together.
Do we really need reminders of how rapidly our world changes? If change is always a part of life, aren’t we doing our kids a lifelong favor when we help them deal with it, show them it’s full of promise, and still recognize and appreciate the timeless and unchanging parts of life – the togetherness of family, the strength of friendships, and the love you have for them?