A mother comforts her daughter who is going through a hard time.

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Dealing with Change in Your Child’s Life

What to expect and how to help them through life’s changes

It’s a new year and with it comes the eternal hope for improvement, advancement and, of course, learning for your kids. But instead of going through the typical New Year’s Resolution with your kids (although we encourage to keep doing that), we’d like to look at new beginnings and changes in general in your kids’ life, beyond the school year. 

Starting a new school (or school) in general, moving to a new home or city, dealing with new or changing siblings, or friends, even, how to deal with new stepdad or new stepmom can be traumatizing if not handled properly. Since we can’t highlight every case where your child will have to deal with something new, we thought we’d try to tell you what to expect when your child encounters change and give you some skills, resources and steps to help them better deal with new or different things. After all, helping kids learn deal with change is critical to their development.

Acknowledge their feelings and understand that extra love, encouragement, and support during this delicate time is a must.

How Change Affects Children
From mealtimes to bedtimes, children crave routine. Many adults are creatures of habit and they get stressed when changes come about, so imagine how our kids must feel! Understandably, adjusting to a new school, a new home, or a change in the family dynamic can be tough for kids, and like adults, they all react differently to change. Some common feelings that children may experience during a big change may include moodiness or irritability, craving more attention or affection and waves of sadness, anger and resentment. However, while some kids may have noticeable changes in behavior and need months to adapt to a disruption to their normal life (like divorce or moving to a new city), others may not miss a beat when a big change occurs.

So, why do some kids take it in stride, while others show signs of anxiety and stress? According to Psychology Today, how your child adapts to change can depend on their temperament, developmental level, personality, and your family’s circumstances. Also, since a child’s brain is still developing regulatory capacities, they often have difficulty dealing with certain emotions that a big change can bring. Not knowing what is coming next can be unnerving for them, which can trigger strong emotions associated with the unknown. Luckily, in most cases, most changes in behaviors can usually be helped with the right guidance from loved ones.

Helping Kids Deal with Change 
So how can we help our routine-loving young children cope with the challenges and changes they will routinely encounter in life? Firstly, talk to your child about what is going to happen, being as honest and direct as possible. The more the child knows what to expect, the less likely their fears are to run amok. When you talk with your child, try and emphasize things that will remain the same during the period of change. Remind a child who is moving that he will still have his family with him, remind the child of divorce that he will still have two parents who love him, and remind the child who is off to a new school, that his neighborhood friends will be waiting for him at the end of the day. 

During a big change, it is also important to try and create as much predictability and consistency in the child’s life as possible. The more things that are kept predictable in the home, the more secure the child will feel during any big change in their life. Keep rules and expectations clear, and, most importantly, stay consistent in your actions as a parent.

Lastly, be aware of your child’s feelings and recognize that changes in behavior and mood are normal. A change often involves loss (divorce, starting anew school, moving homes) and kids should be permitted to grieve these losses. Acknowledge their feelings and understand that extra love, encouragement, and support during this delicate time is a must.