Most of us get comfortable with the status quo. We are contented with where we are and what we are doing. Then it hits – the change bomb! You lose your job, a family member gets sick, the house catches fire, or the family pet makes his last trip to the vet. Suddenly our world turns upside down, but as adults, we have learned through the years to accept change as an inevitable part of life. We deal with it, adjust our new norm, and get on with a new status quo.
Children, however, don’t have that same comfort level or years of experience. They may react violently when the slightest change occurs, like the change from a crib to a junior bed. They may act out before, during, or after a move. They may show a side of their personality previously hidden until a new baby enters the home. Older children may regress and be fearful when they have to go to a new school. And of course the ultimate betrayal to a child’s status quo is the divorce of the parents and the eventual split of the household.
How can you help your child accept change as a fact of life without telling them to “get over it?” Here are some ideas:
1. Prepare your child for the change – Nobody likes unfortunate surprises, especially if those surprises can’t possibly be predicted. If your children comprehend that someday soon they will need to accept life without the family pet, a grandparent, even an older child who is moving away to college, they will be more likely to understand that change is going to happen and there’s not much they can do but accept it.
2. Maintain routine – Show your children all the things that are the same since the change. Help them to see that after the change, you still get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, wear the same clothes, and even have the same kind of family food as before the change. When children see all the things that are the same, they will be less frightened of the thing that is different.
3. Be a positive role model – If children see you stressed and disorganized during a new situation, they will naturally follow your lead. If may be difficult, but try to maintain a calm outward appearance for your children, even if you are very upset inside. Seek professional help, if necessary, because it’s not healthy to keep your emotional upheaval inside all the time. If you see your children having the same problem, seek professional help for them, too.
4. Share your own stories - When children see that you went through a similar experience when you were their age, they will see that life does indeed go on after the change. Be prepared, though – they may ask to hear that story many times over until they learn to accept the new status quo. Show them that they will have their own children someday and can tell them their own stories about change. Writing is very cathartic – if your children are old enough to write, ask them to write about how she feels. You might even start a “change journal” where they record their feelings about what happened. Then the next time a change comes along, they will see a pattern of change and acceptance. A young child can draw pictures about the change in a sketch book.
5. Make extra time for your parental bonding - During a period of change, children are particularly needy. Set aside parent/child time, preferably with just one child at a time, to do something that child enjoys. Let the young person choose the activity, or if you think you won’t be able to accept what the child chooses, offer a choice of three. Kids love choices! So if you give your child three choices you can both live with, everybody wins and you’ve started getting over the hurdle of returning to the new status quo.
Imagine that your life is like a forest. The trees and animals are all the homes and people around you at this point in time. But soon a storm comes along and the forest changes – trees topple, fires start, and floods ravage the area. Yet the forest continues to grow after the storm. Help your children see that they will indeed continue to grow and mature after your family’s personal storm and will likely become stronger for successfully overcoming that storm.
Our book, What’s the Matter, covers the acceptance of change as a piece of ice transforms into water, and then water vapor before reversing the process and becoming ice again. The EnteleTrons® show their friend, Ice, that change is an important part of life. Use this book to jumpstart your discussion about the changes in your child’s life.
Author: Renee Heiss