Change is the one certainty in life and yet it can be so challenging for both children and adults. We know that there is a reason for all behavior and when children are acting out in a way that is difficult to manage, parents might consider recent or upcoming changes to a child’s life that are contributing. In helping children with change there are some specific things parents can do to help the process go smoothly and mitigate meltdowns or other behavioral challenges.
Ways for Helping Children with Change
- Have a prep-talk! If you can foresee the change coming, preparing your child ahead of the coming change will avoid what can feel like shock to a child. For example, if you know that you’ll be putting your house on the market and moving to another house, give your child notice in age-appropriate language about the coming change. Sometimes the coming change does not have finite timelines so address what will be changing for the child. Using our example, maybe you need to let your child know that her toys will need to be neatly put away every day and the bed will need to be made too. You would tell her that people we do not know will be visiting to look at the house and you all might have to leave to go for a ride in the car while they visit. Allow your child to ask questions about the change and keep the line of communication open.
- Books and stories. Depending on the nature of the coming change, you might find a children’s book or two that will introduce the idea of the change and allow the child to see himself in the story and characters. Here is a list of children’s books addressing several topics for helping children with change. Snuggle up and reading together allowing your child to comment and ask questions along the way.
- Give choices. Children feel empowered and included when they are provided opportunity to make choices in the process of change. If you’re moving homes, invite the child to make age appropriate choices. If there are two possible bedrooms in the new home for child to choose from, maybe you can allow the child to choose which she would prefer. You might give your child a few paint samples and ask which of those colors she would like on her new room’s walls. If there is a new sibling coming into the family, allow your child to help make simple choices in preparation for the big change to the family.
- Allow the feelings to flow. Change is hard. Feeling and expressing emotions is absolutely normal and should be allowed and validated. When your child cries or expresses anger about the change, offer a connecting hug and validate out loud that all his feelings are okay and that change is hard. This will help your child to feel secure in his connection with you, to feel seen and heard and will help him to move through the hard emotions and shift to seeing the brighter side of the change eventually.
Many times children who are facing big changes in life benefit from play therapy. If you’re finding that all your efforts to assist your child at home don’t seem to be helping it might be time to reach out for some professional help. Play is the language of children and in a therapeutic relationship, children are able to work through the hard feelings and receive some helpful skills for coping. I also work with parents to aid them in the process of helping children to adjust to changes in life as part of the process of play therapy with the child.
If you’d like to talk about how play therapy and parenting support can help your family, please contact me and I’ll be happy to speak with you.