Coping Empathy Parenting

Kids and Change: Navigating the Roller-Coaster of Life’s Changes with Children

Coping with change
Life is full of changes, both big and small. As parents, it's our job to help our kids cope with these challenges. Whether it's moving to a new home, welcoming a new sibling, dealing with loss, change can be tough for our kids. Here are some ideas to help guide and navigate our children through life's twists and turns with resilience and empathy.

There are three things most consistent in life, three things that anyone, anywhere can count on: death, taxes, and change. Change comes and goes like the wind, sometimes subtle, other times with a gale-force that feels more distinctly like a hurricane than anything else. As adults and parents, it is our job to guide the children in our lives through the ups and downs of this chaotic roller-coaster. One of those tasks is helping them deal with the changes they face.

Whether your child is an only child with two loving parents growing up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood with a white-picket fence and a bernadoodle named Bella, or tumultuous times have cast a shadow over their lives for longer than they ever had the presence of the warm sun, change will be something they always have to grapple with. As a nanny, I’ve helped raise nine children in my almost decade long career, and every single one of them has had to deal with massive changes. These have ranged from moving to getting new siblings, to switching to a big kid bed, to the loss of a sibling, to a new school, and so and so forth.

Change is unavoidable. Like the ever-famous children’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt says, “we can’t go over it… we can’t go under it… we’ve got to go through it.” The best way we can help our children to deal with change is to guide them through it. Here are some strategies for helping kids deal with change.

  1. Talk to them before the change happens.
    1. Children are smart, much smarter than adults give them credit for. While not every piece of information is meant for little ears, it is wholly possible to sit down with your child and explain what will happen before it does. If your child is starting a new school, set aside twenty minutes of your day to check it out together. Reach out to the administration to see if you can visit after hours, email their new teacher to see if you and your child can come in to meet with them. If you’re trying to potty train a stubborn three-year-old, talk with your child about their new routine and what they’re going to be learning. If you’re trying to ditch the pacifier once and for all, no for real this time, they aren’t going to get it back, explain that in a few weeks it will be gone.
  2. Commiserate
    1. Change is not fun. We as human beings are programmed evolutionarily to not accept change well because of the possible dangers it presents. The Neanderthals in caves did not approve of the new fruits brought back by the gatherers because some of them could be poisonous. While in a different form millions of years from our thick-headed brethren, metathesiophobia is not only felt by our kids. How many of us have ever changed jobs? We might be a bit excited for the prospects, but I’m personally nervous of being in a new position. Like all of us, children respond to empathy. If we are experiencing the change as well, like moving to a new city, it goes a long way to talk about how you’re feeling too and let them know that their feelings are not unfounded and are completely normal.
  3. Educate them
    1. There are books for EVERYTHING nowadays. Every topic imaginable has a book for it, ranging from helping children to give up their pacifier to dealing with a stillbirth of their sibling. For so many adults, there is nothing more consoling than the written word, and this stands true for children too. It is often so much easier to understand what is happening around you if the topics are introduced through literature. This helps your child to feel less alone, to understand that there are others that these changes happen to as well as themselves, and it can often be a good facilitator of discussion that helps your children to come up with questions they might have but are unable to put into words. A simple google search will yield a multitude of results for whatever topic you and your children are dealing with.
  4. Find the fun
    1. Most people would agree that naturally, change doesn’t inspire feelings of joy or happiness, but rather a stomachache. Like most things with parenting and raising children, it is important to find the fun within the mundane or torturous. Set a date on the calendar with the upcoming change and talk about it every day. If you’re moving to a new house, take the kids by the neighborhood in attempts to find some neighbors for them to play with and forge friendships with. If something devastating has happened and someone has died, channel the grief felt by everyone into doing something together. Write a card to the loved one who passed or draw a picture. If your child is old enough that they might not be interested in arts and crafts, look through old pictures and videos. Spend time recounting memories to still make this person accessible to your child even if they aren’t there. If a new caregiver is coming into their lives because mom or dad can’t be around as much as everyone else would like, plan activities that are just for that caregiver and your children. There are so many ways to make these changes less of a chore to get through and an easier thing for everyone to experience.
  5. Adjustment takes time
    1. Try to remember what it felt like when you were a child who was experiencing something big. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes, the only thing to do is just get through it. Oftentimes it makes things easier if you expect your child to have big feelings about this change. This keeps your own expectations low so that if things don’t go according to the way you want them to, and picture them as, you’re prepared to deal with it.

If your child is indeed, still struggling with everything new happening in their lives, keep the lines of communication clear and open. The best time to speak to your children is usually when they wake up and when they’re going to bed, with a few qualifiers that teenagers’ lives are different, and the habits are different. I don’t know about how things are in your family, but in mine, the teenagers were not being put to bed by their parents. For these types of instances, phone and screen free mealtimes are key for having conversations with your children. Most families are only able to share one meal together, meaning that every opportunity to talk to, and talk your kids through whatever problem they’re having with adjusting to the changes in their lives is important.

Socrates is quoted as saying, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but building the new.” Change is such a strong part of life that it is a guarantee. One of the best things that we can pass onto our children is the ability to successfully deal with it in a safe and healthy way. This comes from doing many different things.

Start to prepare them well before the change happens, and don’t just assume that explaining it one time is enough. Have empathy. Change is difficult for adults who are more likely to understand everything that is happening and have control over the situation. It is easy to assume that it is even harder for children who are often left in the dark and just expected to move along and keep their emotions together. Let your children know that these changes are just as difficult for you as it is for them. Help them to understand that anything they’re feeling, or thinking is entirely valid and okay. Read, read, read. Books are the key to so much of life’s success, and your child’s ability to accept change is one of them. There are so many different children’s books, in all age groups that can assist in this process. Some different titles that I’ve found from a thirty second google search include: We Were Gonna Have a Baby, but we had an Angel Instead, by Pat Schwiebert and Taylor Bills, A Different Pond, by Bao Phi and Thi Bui, Daddy Lost His Job, by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Just click on the previous titles to find them on Amazon. Imagine how many you could find on a specific topic and a more in-depth search. Find ways to make the situation fun. Talk about all the fun things that are going to come with something new. Get your children to the point where they can start to look forward to what’s going to happen before it happens. And finally, understand what your child is going through and what their feelings might be. There will be good days and bad days, days where they’ll feel more emotional or anxious about things and days where they take everything in stride.

Processing change is not a linear progression of things, but rather a roller coaster where you are simply a passenger on a ride that you might not have chosen but need to be on anyway.

Abby Miller on Linkedin
Abby Miller

Abby Miller has been a nanny for almost a decade, and was a pre-school teacher for two years prior to her career shift. As a nanny, she has worked with children with dyslexia and dysgraphia, with ADHD, with autism and other kinds of neurodiversity. Abby is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and is certified by the International Nanny Association. She resides in Boston with her partner and their rescue dog.

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