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How to help your child cope with change

October 05, 2015

In our previous posts, we talked about and , which are two very emotional challenges that children may face. Both of these topics can cause a child to struggle with ambiguous loss, which is a type of loss that may not feel tangible to a child or even to the adults in their lives.

However, there are multiple other situations and transitions that occur in a child’s life, sometimes on a regular basis, that can cause just as much angst as divorce or bullying. Some of these situations may seem surprising to parents, as they may be viewed as more “common” or “not a big deal.” But, the perceptions of a child can be and often are different.

When your child is anxious about an upcoming move

Moving is a transition that many families experience, and a move is often for a very good reason. A move can be very exciting and many families look forward to a new adventure and a fresh start. But for some children, a move can be very upsetting. More often than not, a child’s home is their “safe place,” and the anxiety of not knowing what their new home may look like, where their room will be and if they will still have room for all of their toys can be issues that cause anxiety.

My recommendation is to allow the child to be involved in the house search. Getting their opinions on what they feel is important can help ease concerns and help alert the parents as to what those concerns may be. Fear of leaving behind old friends, schools, churches, and in some cases, other family members can bring added stress. Encouraging the children to help explore new neighborhoods and, if old friends and family are still close by, helping them map out the fastest routes to get back for visits can ease the transition. If the move is a farther one, help the children set up times to speak to old friends and family and make exploring the new neighborhood and meeting new neighbors a family affair where everyone can participate.

If the child does not seem to be handling the move well or is reluctant to be involved in the process, allow them some room to process all the changes, but continue to offer them chances to be involved. Having the ability to choose can be very helpful in times where it may feel that there isn’t a chance to choose much at all.

When it’s time to change schools or grade levels

Moving up to a new grade or to a new school is often a very exciting time. However, children thrive on routine. When they are required to leave the familiarity of teachers, classmates, and even expectations they’ve taken great care to learn during a school year, it can be very traumatic. Children may worry that some of their old classmates won’t join them in their new class or that they won’t like their new teachers. A sense of loss of the familiarity they knew may accompany these concerns and add an extra layer of stress.

Many schools provide an opportunity to meet the teacher, which can alleviate many concerns. Before this event, ask the child what are some of the things they would like to learn to ensure that their needs and questions are met. If the child expresses a need for something unavailable at that time, then let them know that so they can prepare. During this meeting, children and families can learn a new school, classroom, meet their new teacher and maybe even see some new classmates. This can also provide a non-threatening opportunity for the child to speak to the teacher themselves if they have concerns and also to see what is in the room for the children to play with and experience. Take extra time to walk your child around the school to locate the lunchroom, restrooms, playground, gymnasium, or other areas that the child considers important.

When puberty comes and changes everything

Puberty is a very important transition in a child’s growth process. Some families view it as a great step forward into womanhood or manhood. Others view it more as a challenging time that will test parents and adolescents alike. When thinking of puberty, ambiguous loss may not be what comes to mind first, but these young adults are going through a huge loss of their identity. Puberty is viewed as a time to “become a woman” or “become a man” and those are concepts that a child has never entertained before. All they are familiar with is how to be a girl or a boy.

Experiencing puberty brings about sometimes uncomfortable and unfamiliar feelings and physical changes that can be hard to navigate, and an adolescent may not view it as a positive development. Also, consider that puberty often doesn’t happen at the same pace or age for each child, and this can feel very isolating for a young adult who be maturing faster or slower than his or her peers. Adolescents are very peer-oriented and the opinions of those peers are one of the most important things in their lives. Some adolescents may feel threatened or hurt by changes if there are any changes in friendships during this transitional time. In spite of this, continue to provide support and reassurance to your young adult. Validate their feelings and concerns and provide compassionate reassurance.

Of course, there are many more instances in a child’s life that can cause feelings of ambiguous loss. As you face these moments with your children, remember to remain honest, patient, supportive and consistent. This will help your child feel more secure as they navigate times that may feel very uncertain.