Helping Your Child Successfully Navigate Life Changes
By Heather Hudson, LCSW – May 21, 2019
One of the things we can all count on in life is that it does not remain constant and change is inevitable. Many of us struggle with change, either a little or a lot. Most of us have learned how to navigate life changes through our previous life experiences.
As children we were often guided by our parents, and as we grew we also received guidance from friends and mentors. Sometimes we can get so preoccupied with the changes we are going through that we forget those around us are also experiencing change. As adults, this can include our children.
There are changes that happen to most children, like beginning a new school year, making new friends, growing up, and bodily changes like puberty. There are general ways to handle those common changes, but the emotions of each child should be taken into consideration.
There are some changes that not everyone experiences in childhood such as moving, the death of a loved one, the birth of a sibling, or parental divorce. These life changes need to be handled very personally with as much conversation and openness as possible.
While a life change may even be a positive one, it is still a change and requires adaptation. Transitional periods are often times when children and teenagers may experiment with risky behaviors to cope with their emotions. Recognizing and guiding our children through these life changes can help them successfully navigate these changes and adapt positively while avoiding risky behaviors.
The following are some ways to help your child deal with changes:
- Encourage open dialogue. Try to talk to your child about their feelings and validate them. Say things such as, “I know this must be a scary/hard/confusing/sad time for you. I would like to know how you feel.” Let your child know that you are there to listen. Recognize that some of their negative feelings may be directed toward you, but do not take this personally. Allow your child to express his or her feelings without judgment; this will help your child’s trust in you grow.
- Set aside one-on-one time to be with your child. Showing your child that you are interested in them as an individual and what is going on in their life makes your child feel important. It also shows your child that you are paying attention, regardless of what changes are happening.
- Allow your child to be involved with decisions about the change. Children often feel out of control over decisions in their life. Allowing them to be involved in some of the decision-making allows them to feel they have a sense of control. If you are moving, let your child decorate their rooms and pick out new things for the home. Ultimately, you as the parent have the final say in decision making, but listen to your child and involve them in the process.
- Care for yourself and model this for your child. Allow your child to see you taking care of yourself in times of change, whether it is eating well and exercising or reaching our for support.
Your child takes cues on how to navigate the world around them from you. If you are honest about your feelings but express a positive attitude, your child is likely to adopt that attitude. It’s acceptable and appropriate for you to admit you are scared or sad or worried, but remind yourself and your child that this situation is temporary and there will be better days ahead. Make sure you are doing the necessary things to care for yourself to assure better days ahead.