From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
This summer has been a rough one at my house. Our family has experienced a pretty significant amount of change in just a few months and, while it’s been good change, it’s been really hard on my eight-year-old daughter. We’ve spent hours talking and listening and praying and planning and, honestly, yelling and eye-rolling and crying. I’ve felt frustrated, exhausted and helpless as we’ve tried so hard to help her cope with what has been, to her, an overwhelming amount of uncertainty and change.
So, obviously, I’m the person to write a list of parenting tips for kids dealing with change! Okay, fine, expert I am NOT, but I can tell you the handful of strategies that has worked for my family. And then, in the comments, perhaps you can share what has worked for yours!
7 Ways to Help Kids Deal with Change
1. Remind them of the things that never change. Whether you are moving to a new town, joining a different church, or saying goodbye to a family member, reminding your children of the permanent things of life never hurts. Tell them, over and over if you need to, that you love them no matter what. Tell them that they are smart and brave and strong, that God is in control, that family comes first. Tell them the fundamental truths that your family believes, and tell them often. Remind them that some things, like your love for them, never, ever changes.
2. Maintain routines whenever possible. As a grown-up who doesn’t love change, I know how important routines can be to me. Sometimes, the simple familiarity of putting away groceries or checking my social media accounts in the same order can be soothing enough to help me deal with chaos in other parts of my life. Kids are no different. So even when you are frantically packing boxes or going to doctor’s appointments or contacting lawyers or buying uniforms for their new school, the regular things of life can help your family deal with stress. If you always eat tacos on Tuesday, try to keep eating tacos on Tuesday – even if that means grabbing a bag of pre-made tacos in the drive-thru or using those packed boxes as a makeshift dinner table.
3. Listen. Just listen. I’m a fixer. I know it’s more of a cliché for the man of the house to be the bad listener/wannabe fixer, but I play that role here. I have very limited patience for listening to the same old sob story, the same old fears and anxieties without pushing for a plan, a strategy, a list of things to do TO FIX THE PROBLEM. And sometimes that’s great and helpful and smart…and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my family just needs me to sit down and listen, to hold their hands, to give hugs and smiles AND NOT ADVICE. And while that doesn’t come easily or naturally to me, I’m trying to learn to do it sooner rather than later, before we’re all frustrated on top of all the other feelings.
4. Help them express their feelings. My mom is a teacher, and she’s always coming up with great ideas for helping my girls share their feelings. She knows that sometimes kids don’t have the skills or maturity to say what’s on their minds, so drawing a picture or singing a song might be the best way for them to process and express their emotions. I’m still working on this one!
5. Take a break from the stress. When I get overwhelmed, I tend to stick my head in the sand. I’m not really proud of this habit, but it does help me recognize that sometimes we need a break from dealing with drama. If your family is in the midst of a change, odds are you have lots of tasks and to-dos weighing on your mind and your schedule. And you need to do them! (Don’t be like me and avoid them!) But if you can find a few minutes to watch a funny video with your kids or a few hours to take them to the park, that break will likely go a long way toward relieving the tension and their anxiety.
6. Talk about the good parts of the upcoming change. Does your new house have a big back yard? Will the new baby be super cute? Will your new job mean you travel less? Even changes that are hard and even unwanted – like death, divorce, job loss, or a friend moving away – might have a silver lining. If you can help your kids identify something good in the situation, not only will they be able to adapt to their current circumstances better, but they’ll develop the skills needed to choose joy in all kinds of situations.
7. Remember the past. Change can be exciting and good, even when it’s difficult. But the thing that came before? The one you’re moving past or growing out of? Your kids probably think it was good, too. So take one last photo in front of your old house before the moving truck pulls away. Make a quick photo book of pictures of your child and her friends. Give them some prompts to list out all the things they loved about second grade or their beloved pet or their soccer coach. Let them keep their mementos and help them preserve their memories, allowing them to look back and remember even as you all move forward.
Originally I was going to write a post about books that help kids deal with change. I’d read It Will Be Okay: Trusting God Through Fear & Change with my girls, and I was certain other books must be out there on this topic. I generally assume that books are the answer for all problems, so why not a whole list of them?!
What I found, though, is that similar posts had already been written. And since I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel (but did want to make sure to share these resources with you), I thought I’d just tell you about the lists I found. Great Kids has a list of seven children’s books about moving, and the University of Wisconsin has a long list of children’s books about various types of change. And my friend Tsh wrote about 14 books that help ease children through transition several years ago, and it’s one I’ve bookmarked for future changes!
Okay, now it’s your turn! As I said, I’m far from being an expert on this topic, so I’d love to hear what’s worked for your family.