Helping Children Deal with Change
I still vividly remember the day my parents traded in their first station wagon for a newer model. It was the car they drove to bring me home from the hospital, the one in every family vacation photo, and I was sure that if I collected all of my piggy bank money it would be enough to buy it back for us. I hated change, and 25 years later I feel exactly the same way. It is difficult to let go of the familiar, and for children it can be downright unbearable.
Back-to-school season is the worst for many children because of the sheer number of changes in their young lives that hit them all at once: new classroom, new teacher, new schedule, new classmates. For some the start of the school year also means changing to a new building be it pre-school to elementary, elementary to middle, or middle to high school. In our home, there’s also currently talk of moving to a new house, and I can already feel the tension in my daughter as we discuss the possibility. There are, however, ways to mitigate the pain and stress children experience during periods of upheaval and change.
For some children, the fear of the unknown is the biggest cause of their anxiety. Be sure to go over specifics about what will change in their lives and what will not. For example, my son was greatly comforted to know that if we move, all of his toys and furniture will remain the same, but not the building we live in. My daughter was happy to hear that she would attend the same school even though she will ride a different bus. Also, show them as much as you can about the new location or experience. If you are moving be sure to show them lots of images of the new home and neighborhood. Starting a new school? Find out about a time that you can tour the school prior to the busy open house or first day of school.
Though you’ll want to soothe your children, don’t discount their fears or dismiss their grief. Children will need to process the feelings they are having, and they will be able to do so more easily if they have your support and understanding. But at the same time, don’t focus on the negative or exaggerate the situation. There’s a chance that your fears and concerns are greater than those your child is experiencing, so if they happen to be dealing with the situation gracefully, there’s no need to push them to share their upset – they may actually be doing just fine!
Finally, take time to remember what it is you have left behind. If possible, visit the old neighborhood and don’t be afraid to talk about what has changed in your life. Chances are that you and your child have fond memories to share that will help both of you deal with the change together.