Just keep swimming: Helping your kids deal with change and transitions

By ParentTV on 23 Jun 2020
Categories: General Parenting

Have you heard the expression ‘change is the only constant in life’? 

As adults, we’re pretty used to this, on a micro level, at least. We’re accustomed to trains sometimes running late, computers freezing, being caught in the rain, our favourite cafe selling out of the muffins we like, a friend cancelling a dinner date at the last minute or a million other minor derailments in our days. They’re frustrating, but we don’t dwell on every one. There’s no time and no point.

But for kids, these little changes can be big, and they can bring big feelings with them. Children don’t have the lived experience of navigating the stream of small adjustments adults make in their lives each day, so they don’t have perspective or context when these things occur. For some kids, there are no ‘little’ or ‘big’ changes: it’s all just change and it’s all hard.

As we start to claw back a bit of normalcy after COVID-19 shutdowns put a stop to the life we and our kids knew, the changes we’re going through are not only constant, but very impactful. Kids are dealing with change in areas of their lives that were relatively stable before the pandemic. Imagine, even six months ago, the thought of everyone schooling and working at home for two months! Even in our adult consciousness, it’s been a huge and unexpected event. Some kids have seemed to take it all in their stride, calmly adjusting to the changed circumstances with equanimity while we grown-ups panic-buy pasta, stockpile toilet paper and bake more bread than we could ever eat. Other kids are more vocal about the upheaval in their lives and how upsetting that’s been for them. Still more kids vacillate between those two states and everything in between.

But, whether or not your kids have been outwardly demonstrating their difficulty in coping with all the changes that have occurred, it’s pretty likely that parts of it have been challenging for them. Whether they keep it under wraps or shout it into your ear with a megaphone, it’s there. And, furthermore, it’s not going away. The world has changed, and it’s going to keep changing. So, how can we help kids deal with it?

Here’s some ideas:

In the moment, your child might be hyper-focussed on what’s going on right now, but gently drawing their attention to other times they’ve experienced change and gotten through it can help them see that they are resilient and there’s proof that they’re capable of managing.

When kids are going through change or transition, they can get stuck in their own head and start to believe that they need to manage it by themselves. Remind them that you’re available to help them and they don’t have to fly solo.

With any sort of change, kids may experience a range of emotions that are pretty confusing for them. That can be really unsettling, so talking to them about their amygdala, the fight or flight response and what this means can help them understand why they’re reacting the way they are.

When moving through a period of change is causing big emotions, encourage your child to stop trying to figure things out and just do something they enjoy. This will give them a chance to self-regulate and then return to dealing with it all when their batteries have recharged.

So much of the change that kids go through is beyond their control. Whether it’s changes in themselves, their bodies, their lives, homes or families, one of the hardest parts of coping with change can be feeling helpless in the face of it. While this may be true, we can always control our own responses, and helping kids work out how to do this can be empowering and a good way to help shift their focus.

When your child is going through change, it can be helpful to have open conversations about it so they can air their concerns and raise their difficulties. This also gives you the chance to put things in perspective for them. Talk about how long the change is likely to last and what the best and worst things that could happen are. 

Even if your child is of the variety we mentioned earlier who seems unfazed by any big shifts in their world, don’t assume that they will remain unfazed throughout, or that their capacity to manage it is a constant or a given. Have you ever kept it together through an awful day but then lost it when you stubbed your toe? The same thing can happen to kids!

If you or your child thinks that they could benefit from some professional support, go for it. Especially when the change or transition is affecting your whole family, an ‘outsider’ can be a safer, easier and less complicated source of advice and guidance.

When everything is in flux, it can help to have some things that always remain the same. Whether it’s how you say good night or what’s for dinner on a Tuesday, elements of routine can provide comforting scaffolding in unstable times.

As with just about everything involving kids, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to helping them 

cope with change, and it will depend on the circumstances and on your child. 

Let us know how you go!

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