Helping Children Deal With Change

One of the most important skills you can help your child develop is the ability to deal with change.  There are everyday changes all children face, such as adjusting to a new caregiver or school, or to new teachers and friends.  Many children must face bigger changes as well following a loss, a move, or a divorce in the family.  All change, whether it’s the end of the school year, the birth of a sibling, or a move to a new home, brings some sadness and uncertainty, as well as anticipation and excitement.  You can help your child develop the skills to handle change by understanding your child’s needs and by offering encouragement and support.

Here are some ways you can help your child prepare for and handle change:

  • Do what you can to be available during times of transitions and change. For example, if your child has a hard time at the beginning or end of the school year, try to be more available during these times.  Do what you can to simplify your family life so that you can focus on your child’s needs.
  • Talk about the change. Talk about what will happen and what the change will mean for all of you.  For example, if you will be moving to a new home, talk about how hard that is, how much fun it is, and what to expect.  Answer as many of your child’s questions as you can, such as how long the move will take, how far your new home is from school, and what you know about the school and town.
  • Acknowledge your child’s worries and fears. Allow your child to feel angry, sad and confused during times of change.  These feelings are normal and your child needs to be allowed to express them.  Acknowledge your child’s feelings and respond sympathetically.  You might say, “Yes, saying goodbye to a friend is really hard.  That makes me feel sad too.”  Be sure to let your child know that you take his concerns seriously.  For example, you can say “Are you worried about going to a new school? I used to worry about that when I was your age, too,” or “I know you miss your old friends from last year.  It’s hard when things change.”
  • Maintain family routines. Knowing what to expect helps your child feel grounded and secure, especially during times of transition.  Maintain family routines around bedtime, TV, and family meals as much as possible.
  • Try to keep other changes in your child’s life to a minimum during times of transition. For example, if you are going through a big change at home, this is not the time to send your child to a new camp or new after-school program.
  • Expect that a child who had difficulty in the past with transitions may need extra support during times of change.
  • Talk with your child’s teacher or child care provider about changes going on in your family life.

Adapted from “Helping Children Deal with Change” with permission from the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington.

Previously published in the Spring-Summer  2008 issue of ACCESS Integration.