A recent conversation with a friend’s rising sixth-grader reminded me that we all live in a state of change.
This sweet young lady expressed concern over the unknown — what middle school will hold for her in September, and whether she’ll fit in and be academically successful. My assertion “You’ll be fine” was met with a question: “I will?”
The exchange got me thinking about the process of change and how it is just as routine to life as the need to breathe, eat and sleep; for the only thing constant about life is change itself, and according to research, learning to cope well with change is a critical component to building a successful life.
Research also shows that change can be harder on adults than on children, who, when armed with the proper support and knowledge, are highly adaptable.
Knowing this doesn’t make the process any less worrisome for parents, who naturally are inclined to shield their children from heartache.
Most, if not all, of us have been there, whether the change you and your children are facing is challenging — such as a long-distance move, a change in family structure, or the death of a loved one or beloved pet — or a routine transition, such as changing grades, the birth of a child into the family or the transition from sleeping in a crib to a bed.
Whatever the scenario, many child psychologists and parenting experts agree that how parents position the transition in their own minds will impact how well children adjust.
In a 2014 article for Psychology Today, Tovah P. Klein, an associate professor of psychology at Barnard College and author of the book “How Toddlers Thrive,” said that a lasting benefit of change for children is the practice it gives them in becoming flexible, which in turn builds resilience: “Flexibility is needed to get along with peers, from learning to cooperate to knowing when to compromise or stand firm. ... Studies show children who do well with peers are successful in relationships and learning more generally.”
Here are additional tips, compiled from the advice routinely offered by professionals who share their expertise on helping children cope with change:
- Fear of the unknown is common, so rather than act as if a looming change isn’t a big deal, provide your child with as much age-appropriate information as possible about what has happened or will happen and why.
- Find books or websites that feature information about the new location, life experience or opportunity that you can share with them. The more your children can tangibly see or learn about what’s to come, the better.
- As the reality of the change begins to sink in, continue to talk with your children about how they feel, and help them see exciting or positive aspects of the new situation.
- Listen patiently and show you care. Reassure your children that you, too, are having to adjust, and that you’re right there with them on the path to learning and growing in new ways. This “partnership” will help build your child’s confidence and help you feel better, too.
Most important, honor each child’s individual needs, and help each manage change based on what best suits that child’s personality and strengths.
Continue to evaluate your emotions and practice self-care along the way, so that as your children watch you embrace your circumstances, they learn to value the twists and turns in their journeys, too.