Preparing children for big changes
Kids seems to be such a marvelous mystery – on the one hand, resilient and naturally adaptable to change; yet also highly sensitive and easily affected by everything that happens. Because they are still developing, they are more vulnerable to big changes. It’s not only a separation, divorce or remarriage that marks a major change for a child. Big changes include – moving homes or cities, the birth of a brother or sister, changing schools and even starting a new grade. All of these can deeply affect them, sometimes even damaging their developing self-esteem. By understanding this, and preparing them in advance for the changes that lie ahead, you help them manage the stress of the change, and everyone ends up coping better!
How kids cope depends on :
- their age and personality;
- how much change they’ve already experienced;
- how well prepared they were for the change;
- your reaction, responsiveness and support before, during and after the change
We’ll know they’re not coping well with the change when their behaviour starts to change a lot (e.g. more attention-seeking; demanding; poor grades, changes in sleep, concentration etc.)
Big changes can be both exciting and stressful for our kids, so preparing them in words in advance really does wonders for them to cope with, and even enjoy the change when it happens.
- constantly put yourself in their shoes (ask yourself “how would I feel if I was him?”)
- talk about it – by discussing the upcoming change it offers kids a healthy way to let out their feelings (older children may prefer to write about how they are feeling in a journal)
- keep them involved and/or informed in the preparations – this helps them feel more safe and builds the bond between you and them
- give them extra reassurance, love and affection – in times of change our kids need us to be there for them even more than usual
- answer all of their questions honestly – it hurts kids more when we avoid answering or come up with ‘white lies’ to hide the real truth
- acknowledge their fears – change can be very scary; instead of ignoring their fears, allow them to think about and even make a list of what they are most afraid of (this way you can tackle each fear one by one).
- encourage them to find the positives (once fears have been named) – all changes can be both exciting and frightening depending on what you focus on
- expect them to have a range of feelings – mixed feelings are very common when faced with big changes (e.g. excited and anxious)
- be patient – give them time to adjust (some children need a lot more time to settle after a big change than others)
- take care of your own emotions – our kids cope best when we are coping well
By preparing our kids for life changing events, we are helping them to cope far better with the change, and teaching them that there are healthy ways to adjust to whatever life throws at them.