Change isn’t easy for most people, especially for children. That’s why, as moms, we want to know how to to help our children when they’re coping with change. The change can be big — a new sibling, a new school, or a new stepmom or stepdad. But even little changes, like a new teacher, changing beds at home, or getting new neighbors can be challenging for kids who might not have skills for coping with change.
We recently went through a big change in my family—we moved into a new house. My husband and I lived in our old house for 10 years. We brought home each of our four children to this house. We lived on a beautiful cul-de-sac with wonderful friends who were more like family than neighbors. My kids had eight other kids of similar ages that they’ve known since they could walk, to play with from sun up til sun down.
However, this fall we moved. Initially, my kids were excited about living in a new house and the prospect of decorating their new rooms. But slowly, it dawned on them that they would have to move schools and would have to make new friends. It also dawned on them, as they struggled with adjusting to the move, that my husband and I were the ones who had orchestrated this change. Though it was hard for one of my daughters to articulate how she felt, I was able to discern that her troubled feelings came from this being her first big realization of the power her parents’ choices have over her life. She knows we have the ability to completely upend her life. This revelation can be overwhelming and rather scary for anyone, let alone a child.
As parents, we are always trying to make the best decisions for our families. Sometimes those decisions, though the best, still cause pain for our kids. Helping our kids navigate the emotions of grief, fear, and even anger will help them process and push through this tough season in their life.
Here are some suggestions to help your kids when they’re coping with change.
The Power of the Little Things
Allow them to control the little things. Remind them that they have control over their emotions, choices, and behaviors. But go a step further, especially during a season of big change, let them make choices about their appearance (i.e. clothes, hairstyle), let them redecorate their rooms, lockers, backpack, let them choose the dinner menu or help pack their lunch. Be creative and in tune with your child’s personality. What would make them feel both energized and empowered?
During a big change in family life, it’s easy to get distracted with our own thoughts and feelings. It’s important to be watchful for the moods and behaviors of our kids, as they may indicate that our kids are not dealing with the transition in a healthy way. One way to do this is to use the ideas in our 30 Day Mom Challenge. It will give you ways to really focus on your child at least once a day.
Though it is not necessary to discuss every decision you and your spouse make with your kids, it is important that your children be a part of a conversation that involves a big change. If you and your husband do need to keep the plans for the change private at first, be sure your kids aren’t overhearing discussions that could upset them. Eventually, allow them to share what they think, how they feel, their fears, and concerns. Don’t discount what they have to say, instead empathize and see if a compromise can be made. In what ways have your parental decisions impacted your kids lives in a big way?
Paige Clingenpeel is a licensed teen therapist and has worked on TV, radio, and web-based media. Her passion is creating health, hope, and humor for youth and their families.