It is amazing how resilient children can be. For the most part, they take life as it comes and make adjustments accordingly. Most children make adjustments more easily to temporary changes such as bedtime routines, new foods, or a new babysitter. However, there are times when more permanent life-altering events occur that require preparation and a bit more transition time. Whether it’s a divorce, a new step-parent, a new baby, a major move, or the death of a loved one, the ease of a child’s transition is directly affected by how welcome the change is.
A child’s reaction will be more positive or negative based on how comfortable they are. As a parent or guardian, it is up to you to help them with that. Your attitude about the situation can be a great benefit or hindrance to that. If you are consistantly excited and positive, chances are your child will be as well. Regardless of where your child falls on the reaction meter, though, there are a few things that can help any child prepare for the upcoming modifications to their schedules and their lives:
Consider their age
Younger children and toddlers require a minimum amount of explanation. The younger they are the less you need to say. If you are moving, you can simply tell a toddler that they will be getting a wonderful new room. The biggest thing a young child wants and needs to know is that they are loved, safe, and secure. Make sure that you include several familiar factors with the changeover. For example, when transitioning from a crib to a bed, put the bed in the same location where the crib was, and use the same bed linens (if possible) and the same bedtime routine. Familiarity brings security, which brings comfort.
Preteens and teenagers are full of definite feelings and opinions. It is important to help them feel their opinions are important and any concerns they may have are addressed. Whether you agree with, consider, or incorporate any of their thoughts, you should be sure to show them respect by clearly addressing each one. If your child is going to be changing schools due to a move, or school district boundary change, they might be very upset at the prospect of not being around their friends anymore. Rather than giving the stock answer of “You will make new friends,” help them take strides to stay in touch with them. Help them plan activities with their old friends after school or on weekends. If you have adult children, especially those that will be affected by your life-changing decision, it’s probably a good idea to give them a heads up as to what is going to be happening and when. However, unless it is something they are in control of, be sure it is clear that you are not seeking their permission or approval.
Consider their personality
Welcomed or not, and regardless of age, getting your child prepared for such major life changes is imperative. How much preparation, though, will depend on the child. A child who is pretty easygoing and agreeable to most things, or who will more than likely have a fairly positive reaction to the upcoming event, will require far less preparation time than a child who has anxiety issues or who will more than likely react negatively. Children with anxiety issues or other special needs will generally require a great amount of preparation in order to calmly deal with major transitions. Children who tend to be insecure, shy, or less social will need you to assure them a multitude of times that everything is going to be alright; this is especially true in cases where there is the loss of a loved one due to divorce, death, or a move. If they were pretty close to that person they will have a harder time working through their grief or separation. Children who are more outgoing usually have an easier time with big changes, such as moving or family additions.
Consider their part
With major life events, helping your child feel like they are a part of it can help. Giving them an age appropriate job or responsibility will do just that. Kids love to feel like they are helping and participating, that is until helping starts to cross over into the realm of chores. When there is a new baby, let children help with such tasks as getting the diaper bag, handing you the wipes, shaking the bottle, or picking out a change of clothes. School-age kids can help with younger siblings by assisting them in getting dressed or reading bedtime stories. When your child is ready to trade in the baby room decor for something more mature, let them pick out the new theme and then work as a team to determine and set it up.
For those parents with pre-teens and teenagers that are transitioning into puberty, educate them on all the different appropriate personal hygiene and clothing options, then help them pick out what is going to work best for them.
Every child is different, and their needs in terms of working through major life events are different. When figuring out what is going to be most benefical for your child, be sure you take into consideration each child’s age, personality, and any way they can be actively involved in the process. Focus on the positive and your child will follow suit. Helping your child through the inevitable major life changes helps prepare them to be more independent and productive adults.