Helping Our Little Ones Deal with Change

As the saying goes “the only constant is change”.  Even though change is inevitable, it does not make it any easier for us to accept.  Big changes such as a divorce, death of a loved one or loss of a job can be difficult for many adults to cope with.  These changes are especially difficult for our children whose young brains are still developing.  While they may not be able to express verbally that they are having difficulty with a change, you may be able to recognize it by their reactions and changes in emotions.

The covid-19 pandemic has caused many big changes for children in a short period of time.  They are no longer in school with their friends, unable to visit family members or participate in their usual activities.  They are also not immune to the challenges the adults in the family may be facing such as a loss of income or anxiety around the virus.  As parents go back to work, some children may experience separation anxiety, as they have gotten accustomed to having their parents around.  And at some point they will have another major change as they go back to their physical classrooms, likely with additional safety protocols.

It may not always seem like it, but children thrive on routine and these changes can be very unsettling on their minds and emotions.  Here are a few tips to help your children to deal with big changes.

Talk to them

Oftentimes our children are the last ones to know about major decisions that impact their lives.  While we may have had time to think through and come to terms with a change, we sometimes do not consider that our child may need to go through the same process.  Where possible, give your children fair warning about an impending change so they can wrap their little minds around it.

Your child also takes cues from you.  So it is important to be mindful about how the change is communicated.  Try to focus on the positives of the change and ultimately let them know that you are still there to love and support them through it, no matter how difficult it may seem.

Listen to their feedback

While they may not be able to change the outcome, it is still important for your children to feel heard.  Ask them questions so you can understand what they may be concerned about.  Allow them to express their thoughts and validate their feelings.  Where possible, invite them to contribute ideas to solutions or offer them choices so they can feel like their concerns are being met.

Keep a routine

Even if it seems as if everything has been turned upside down, it helps to keep as much the same as possible.  Things like your morning and bedtime routines create the feeling of consistency are especially important during a big change.  And because they are predictable, your children will feel like they have some sense of control over one aspect of their lives.  You can also use the change to create new routines, for example spending some time in prayer in the morning as a family before you head back out to work or leaving little notes on their door if you leave before they wake up.

Allow their feelings

Big change can mean big emotions.  As the stress hormones circulate in your child’s body you may see moodiness, defiance, aggression, sadness or withdrawal.  This creates a great opportunity to practice tools to manage those big emotions.  Journaling is a great practice for children and adults to process their emotions.  Younger children can use drawings instead of words to show how they are feeling.  

Be patient.  Connection

Just like the process of grief, it may take some time for your child to become comfortable with a major change.  Be patient with them and create more opportunities for connection so that your child feels loved and safe.   It may take many conversations, lots of role-playing and just the passage of time.  But this too shall pass.

We live in a constantly evolving world.  If our children develop the tools to deal with change at a young age, it will help to build their resilience and prepare them to deal with the challenges they will face in the future.