We work hard to create a world of structure and predictability for our children, with routines, a regular schedule, and consistent expectations. We aim to make their lives stable, safe, and secure. As they grow up, we hope that this early experience will center them, and that they will be solid in a world of flux and change. In addition to providing children a safe and secure beginning, we also have to prepare them for the ups-and-downs of life. One way is to foster a positive attitude towards change. Following are some steps that parents can take to prepare children for change:
1. Observe your children and note how they react to the prospect of change. Is there a pattern? Do they generally dig in their heels? Do they become anxious and fearful? Or do they look forward to new experiences? These patterns and attitudes can become the modus operandi as they grow into adulthood. The goal is to change negative patterns and attitudes now, before they become entrenched.
2. Talk with your children about their feelings before they face a new situation or impending change. Depending on the children’s age, temperament, and background, they may or may not be able to discuss their feelings directly. If children have trouble articulating how they feel, approach it indirectly. Perhaps bring up a parallel example from your own life and discuss how you felt at the time. With younger children, it is
helpful to use a picture book in which the main character goes through similar experiences.
3. Discover the picture your children formed of the change. Children’s feelings about an impending change directly correlate to their understanding of what is happening. If they are telling themselves that they will move to a new neighborhood, and won’t have any friends, it makes sense that they are feeling sad and fearful. Ask them what they think the future will hold once the change occurs.
4. Look for catastrophic thinking. Are your children envisioning a catastrophic outcome, a worst-case scenario? Are they using words like never, always, everyone, and no one? “I’ll never make any friends at my school.” “Everyone already has friends.” “No one will want to be friends with me.” These statements might feel like reality to your children, but they are not. Challenge these statements and help your children develop a more balanced view of what the future may hold. If you repeatedly challenge catastrophic thinking, your children will pick up the technique and will begin to use it, too.
5. Prepare your children in case some of their fears become reality. Suggest alternative ways of making friends. If they are very shy or there are other obstacles, adjust suggestions accordingly. Also, ask the children if they can think of solutions. Teaching a child to be proactive as a response to change will have immeasurable benefits over a lifetime.
6. Allow your children to grieve their losses brought about by a change in circumstances. Acknowledge the losses as real and comfort them in their sadness. If children do not have the opportunity to express their sadness, it can heighten anxiety and possibly lead to depression.
7. When appropriate, ask children to try to envision a positive outcome to the change. Encourage them to think of all the wonderful possibilities that a change might bring. This exercise teaches them to think optimistically.
8. Call attention to their successes once the change has occurred and the children have adapted. Remind them how they’d pictured the change, and contrast it with the reality of the situation. This will help them to “reality test” future thinking.
Article originally published in Motivated magazine. Used with permission. Photo by Mashael Al-Mehmadi via Flickr.