Change can be a scary time for kids. They can feel like they did something wrong and want things to back to the way they were. During change, they need assurance that everything is going to be OK. They need to know that the change is not because of them. They need to be free from guilt, blame, shame, or any other negative emotion during the change. Following are three of the biggest changes a child can experience and how you can help them deal with them.
Helping Children Deal With Change Of Family Dynamics
For the most part, there are three different changes that can happen in a family. A parental divorce, an introduction of a new parental figure along with new brothers and sisters, and a parental death.
1. Divorce: The Need To Keep Things Stable And Structured With No Blame Or Extra Responsibility
When a child loses a constant authority figure from the home, things can feel quite topsy-turvy. The need for stability and structure are very important so that a child can feel confident and understand what they need to do during this time.
This means that both parents need to stay calm, mature, and confident around the child. Rules and boundaries still need to remain in place, co-parenting still needs to happen to as big as an extent that it can, and the main guardian needs to keep routine as familiar as possible. All of this will help to lessen the stress of the change in the home and help the child understand what is expected of them and what they should expect from their parents.
Removing blame is also important. According to experts, children tend to take a lot of the blame when a marriage ends. They feel like their parents are splitting up because of something they did and that they are being punished for their actions. Children need lots of assurance that this is not the case and that the breakup is simply something that the parents decided was best for the family.
Lastly, kids should not have to shoulder any part of the missing spouse’s duties. They should not be expected to comfort their parents through the divorce. They should not be a shoulder to cry on or complain to. In fact, complaining to your children about the other parent can affect how they feel about you and the other parent. All of those things are completely out of a child’s control, but they will try to control it if you ask them to, and that’s not fair. They don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with those issues, so they shouldn’t be asked to deal with them.
2. A New Parental Figure: Keeping Mom And Dad In Charge
If a new parental figure has entered the picture, then it may be tempting to give him or her a parental role right off the bat, but experts warn against that unless the children are very young. If they are young, then they will adapt to the new person much easier, depending on how well the divorce was handled. However, if they are older, they may be very resistant of the new person in their life, and if other children are involved, then this can even make it harder on them.
Both familiar parents should help the child understand that this new addition to the family is OK and that they are allowed to like them and get along with them. The new parental figure shouldn’t be the one to give out direct discipline in the beginning, but they should be able to create their own boundaries and have the children respect those boundaries. Moreover, they should stand behind the parents and their personal choices for discipline in the family.
The new parental figure should also actively support the child’s relationship with both parents. There should be no jealousy or fighting amongst the parental figures in the child’s life so that they can maintain a sense of peace and normalcy.
When other children are involved, Dr. Phil recommends not playing favorites when the family is brought together. Even though the new parent may have stronger feelings for their own children – discipline, rules, and love shown should be the same for all the children from both parents. This will ensure one child does not feel like they are less than the other children, and it will keep everyone’s confidence and esteem up while minimizing problems.
3. Death In The Family: Keep Things In Their Scope Of Reference
Kids don’t really understand death. They understand that someone they love is gone and in heaven, but they don’t grasp the reality that the person is never coming back again.
When someone in the family dies, it is very important to explain that their body is no longer working and they are gone to a better place, and then answer any questions the child may have. You don’t want to make it sound like the person may come back one day because kids take things literally and they will believe that. You don’t need to get into specifics. But, you do need to make it easier for them to understand so that they can cope.
If someone outside of your home died, then you will want to take them to the home to see that they are no longer there. You can have them be present as you pack up the deceased one’s stuff, and help them grasp the reality that this person is no longer going to be able to use these things because their body is gone.
If the child has lost a parent, you may want to take them to a counselor to express their feelings and get some help working through this time. You will be going through a very hard time yourself, so your emotions may cloud how to correctly handle the situation, and you may cause your child to feel stressed and confused. You can also seek the help of other parents who have had to go through this situation and gain perspective on what worked or didn’t work for them. This can also offer you support from like-minded people during this change of life.
Helping Children Deal With Change Of Home
Home is a very familiar thing that children value. They grow in it, they know it inside and out, and they feel safe and secure in it. Changing homes is a big thing for adults, but especially for children. It means moving away from friends and familiar sights and moving to an unknown location full of unknown things. It can be very overwhelming for a child, which is why a few things that need to take place.
First, prepare your child for the reality that they are going to move. They need enough warning that a change is coming to help them deal with it. If you have a young child who can barely remember day-to-day things, then you may not need to give a lot of warning, but for an older child who is very set in their ways, you need to give at least a few weeks warning so they can process the reality of what’s going to happen.
You should give enough details so that they understand exactly what is happening. For instance, you should let them know that they will be permanently leaving this house behind and moving into a new house. Leave no room for doubt about whether they will come back or not. You should inform them that they will have to pack up everything so they can bring their toys, and clothes, and bed and everything else they value. And, if you can, show them where they are going to move so that they can really get clear on where they are going. All of this will help them find some comfort.
If your child is still upset, Felicity Moore has a great tip. Point out the positives to them. For example, tell them that they are going to have more room to play, or a bigger bedroom, or be closer to a McDonalds, or whatever else they will appreciate and find meaning in. Once they start to think about the positives, they will be less likely to resist the change and embrace it.
Helping Children Deal With Change Of School
A new school doesn’t just mean a new building to go to. It means new teachers, new classmates, and new rules. Each school has its own unique vibe, and it can be very stressful to have to adjust to a new school and figure out the ropes.
Thanks to the internet, you can now get online and check out some of the school dynamics before you send your child there. Many schools offer a site where you can check out school news, student life, and details about the school to make it much more familiar.
A principal of a junior high school suggests getting them used to the new school by bringing them by at different times of the day. Allow them to see the outside and inside of the school when school is starting, classes are in, classes are out, and school is over. This will help them get a more personal feel for the school atmosphere.
Moreover, if the school gives tours, take one. This will help your child feel even more comfortable with the school as the guides are going to be friendly and informative.
Sign your kids up to some activities in the school and close to the school. Obviously, the activities in the school will help your child make some friends quickly, but there is a very good chance other kids from the school will be at activities outside of the school too, which can help them become fast friends with people they may not otherwise meet in the school. The quicker they make friends, they more willing they will be to accept the change.
But, ensure your child that they will be able to keep in touch with their old network of friends. If they are old enough, you may want to allow them to stay friends on Facebook; however, if they are too young, you can arrange it with their friend’s parents to have occasional Skype chats where they can see, laugh, and play with their old friends in a virtual way. This is something I wish I had when I was younger. Moving usually meant being cut off from old friends, unless someone in the family still lived close to them. With the Internet, keeping in touch with old friends and boosting confidence while making new friends is easy to do.
Lastly, boost your child’s confidence by reminding them of times they were scared but made it through before. As adults, we know that pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone is the only way to grow, but kids don’t really understand that concept yet. Therefore, reminding them of times they simply survived change before will help them gain some confidence to face their new school and classmates with the belief that they will be alright.
A Few Extra Notes For Helping Children Deal With Change In All Areas Of Life
No matter what is happening in your life, there are likely a few good children’s books that can help. If you have a young kid, and need to read to them, then they will see and hear about the change and what is going to happen and be able to get clarity on any questions that they have.
And speaking of questions, make sure you answer all of the questions they have during a big change. No question they have should be belittled because they are all very big concerns to them. Moreover, you may need to repeat the answers sometimes to help the child understand and accept what is going to happen.
Lastly, exhibit patience with your child as they struggle with the change. Some children have a harder time than others, even when everything is being done right by the parents. If you find that your child starts to act out or revert back to earlier unwanted behaviors, this is just their way of coping with the change, and with consistency and patience on your part, they will pull through.