Helping Children cope with Change

Change is the only constant

I feel like I’m re-living the lyrics of Paul Young’s hit Wherever I lay my hat at the moment, not because I’m breaking someone’s heart, but because I’m roaming about Kent stopping here and stopping there in holiday lets while our house is being renovated after a flood last year.

Having lived in our house since 1998, I now realise that I don’t do change in my home situation very well, probably because as a child I lived in 9 different houses before I was 18.  As a result I longed to put down roots after I was married and had my children.

Roaming about when I was young, moving house at my Mother’s whim robbed me of putting down roots and making lasting friends, in the days when friendship only lasted as long as the last letter, but it also made me incredibly resilient, sociable and very determined to lay down my hat, long enough for my children to experience a true sense of what “home” is.

I was made aware of having achieved that dream, as I read my daughter’s words in her Mother’s Day card this year:

Dear Mum,

Thank you for everything you do for me and everyone –thank you for being my home, and creating a home for us wherever you are.

This is the daughter who screamed the whole night long one Christmas eve, when we stayed away from home, as she thought Father Christmas wouldn’t know where to find her!

These are words that I will treasure forever, but also prompted me to reflect on those children who like myself are thrust into coping with change at an early age and how we can help them.

Children experience change for all sorts of reasons and they cope with it best when they are prepared for it in advance. Starting a new school, the arrival of a new sibling, a new partner, or a change of home, can all be handled positively with the right amount of involvement, planning and talking about the advantages, but it can still be stressful because routine and predictability is disrupted. This is even more pronounced with children who have a diagnosis of ADHD or Autism.

Sometimes we forget as adults that the things that make us excited and eager for change, can make children incredibly anxious, because they haven’t got the life experience to know that things will be ok. So they end up really like a fish out of water. I remember myself age 10 sobbing on the steps of a new house my parents had bought, refusing to go in, because it “smelt,”  I didn’t understand the word “renovation” and remember feeling totally shocked that my parents could bring me to a house that was smelly, dirty and dark.

So if your family is experiencing some form of change and you have noticed a change in your child’s behaviour, be it mood, co-operation or tantrums, it may be because they are experiencing some form of stress or anxiety related to change. Negative behaviour can be as a result of the change in routine, and therefore your child feels “out of control”. Without structure and routine children feel insecure and therefore unhappy.

So how can we prepare children for change positively if we ourselves struggle?

Involving all the family in discussing the changes ahead and the reasons for it have huge benefits. Preparation over a house move pays huge dividends. Moving house after my daughter had just started primary school made her very anxious, as she thought she was going to be far away from her new friends. We were able to show her this wouldn’t be the case by walking with her from the new house to her school on a familiar route, before we moved, which helped put back a smile on her face.

It can help to relate our own stories of change when we were little, acknowledging how hard we found it, and this might open up the conversation about their feelings. Putting names to feelings if they are little builds emotional literacy, by introducing words such as sad and scared. This may take some time, but if we make ourselves available and truly present when they seem to be struggling, they will eventually open up. If your child suddenly starts crying about something that to you seems silly, this may be a pre-empt to help them find the words by telling them that you are noticing that they seem upset , rather than dismiss them as silly.  Help them acknowledge that it’s ok to feel sad, or scared or worried and it may take time to adjust but these feelings are normal.

Encourage some coping strategies that encourage positive thinking and creative solutions to make the situation better.

Always stress the positives of the changes, and be aware of the times you can slip into moaning when they can hear you.

Think about how you can preserve a similar routine . If that is going to be difficult, create some new rituals that you can all look forward to.

But of course each circumstance and family is different so to apply some Coaching principles, here are some questions that you could ask yourself which may help you navigate the process:

  1. How much does my child know about this change that is coming?
  2. How have I been helping my child through this so far?
  3. Have I noticed a change of behaviour in my child?
  4. Are they saying that they are excited about the change but their behaviour is indicating otherwise?
  5. In my child’s eyes, what might they be struggling with? Am I seeing the change through my child’s eyes?
  6. How can I modify my own attitude that will help my child cope?

I am able to help with Positive Parenting strategies but hopefully

“This too will Pass”.

But if it doesn’t, it may be worth seeking a consultation with a Professional Child Psychologist, if you think your child consistently struggles with change by contacting http://www.starjumpz.com

Alternatively you could consider homeopathy through contacting http://traceycampbellhomeopath.com/children/