6 Ways to Help Children Embrace Change

6 min to read
Parent helping child while sitting on a white sofa

Children may encounter a variety of changes that can be difficult for them to handle. Some changes may be drastic and stressful life events, such as saying goodbye to a pet, experiencing a change in familial structure, or changing schools. The change may also be as seemingly minor as having a substitute teacher for a week or changing desks. Whatever the event may be, kids need to learn how to handle change, because change is unavoidable in life. Learning how to cope with change is critical for children so they can grow into happy, successful, and resilient adults. 

How can parents and Learning Coaches help children handle change? They can do so by talking with their children, showing empathy, giving them routines in which to find comfort, offering choices when possible, and connecting as a family. Explore some coping with change activities for you and your family below to help your child build this vital skill. First, though, it’s important to address why change may feel uncomfortable for children.

When is Change Uncomfortable

Kids, particularly children in kindergarten or elementary school, like routine and dependability because it gives them a sense of structure and security. So, when that dependable aspect of a child’s life is changed, it can feel overwhelming to them and cause fear and anxiety

Some manifestations of children experiencing stress from change may include: 

  • emotional outbursts  
  • sleeping difficulties 
  • social withdrawal 
  • a negative change in academic performance 
  • physical maladies such as stomach aches or headaches  
  • increased anger or defiance 

Part of why change may cause children anxiety or stress is because they may not understand why the event happened, so there may be feelings of confusion and of losing control and stability. Part of these feelings may also be caused by not knowing what will come next. However, parents and Learning Coaches may be able to address and soothe these feelings and help their children handle change and discomfort through the following ways. 

How to Help Children Navigate Change

1. Find the root of the fear.

Talking and listening are keys to helping children handle change. Yet, young children may not have developed the tools yet to clearly express what is bothering them.  

Part of talking and listening may be investigative work. Parents and Learning Coaches may want to ask their children questions to help guide their children to what may be bothering them. Some helpful options that also work as coping with change activities include: 

  • Asking, “What are you feeling right now?”  
  • Asking, “What feels scary to you about this?” 
  • Encouraging the child to draw what is bothering them to show how they are feeling. 
  • Thinking about any recent differences that have occurred in the child’s life and asking them how they feel about each difference. 

Once you have a better understanding of the issue, parents and Learning Coaches may be able to determine what is bothersome to the child about that change. For instance, if the child is changing to a new school, then the child may be anxious about the logistics of how school will work—where will they put their backpack, where will their desk be, how they will find the lunchroom, etc. These are all elements that can be addressed with your child ahead of time to help the change go smoothly. 

If a child is still having trouble discussing what is bothering them, then parents and Learning Coaches might consider talking about these things during an activity. Research shows that having an activity to focus on while having a conversation can help to take off pressure that a child may feel, encouraging them to be more open with their feelings. 

A parent and child discuss navigating change.

2. Show empathy.

As parents and Learning Coaches talk about change with their child, they may want to acknowledge their child’s emotions. Doing so will help them to feel heard and will build trust. For example, a parent could say, “I understand that moving schools is scary. There are a lot of new things that are going on, and new things can feel scary sometimes.”  

Rephrasing the child’s emotions may also help to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence, because it helps them to better identify and give labels for their emotions and can thereby talk about them more easily and clearly. 

3. Find routines.

If a change has broken a child’s routine, then consider creating them a new routine to hang on to for a sense of security. For example, maybe you as a family can start cook together every Thursday, watch a movie every Saturday night, or read a story before bedtime each night. These types of simple, new routines can help increase a child’s sense of stability by providing additional structure to their lives. 

4. Offer choices.

Another reason change can feel overwhelming and scary to children is because it often signals a loss of control. These feelings can be lessened by parents and Learning Coaches, offering the child a sense of agency by making choices. For example, if the child is transitioning from a brick-and-mortar school to an online school, consider allowing them to decorate and organize their learning space at home. 

5. Connect as a family.

Sometimes, family activities, conversations, and playtimes can provide comfort for children who are navigating change. A reminder that your child is loved and cared for, regardless of what changes they may face, can leave them with a sense of support and stability. 

6. Try Other Coping with Change Activities

In addition to the above strategies, some coping with change activities for kids also include: 

  • Read a book together about the change the child is experiencing. 
  • Practice deep breathing exercises together to reduce anxiety and stress levels. 
  • Use art and music as emotional outlets. 
  • Engage in humor and silliness to brighten spirits and shift a child’s mood. 
  • Develop an exercise routine to promote a child’s natural endorphins and provide a sense of structure.
  • Try a self-care activity that the whole family can enjoy. 
  • Explore a new hobby.

Change for kids can be difficult. It often disrupts their sense of stability and, ultimately, their feelings of safety. However, parents and Learning Coaches can help children learn how to handle change and discomfort to give them the necessary skills to navigate change on their own as they grow up and become adaptable and resilient adults. 

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