Helping Kids Adapt to Change
Change can be an emotional and stressful process for anyone, and kids are no exception. Big changes like going off to school, moving to a new house or having a new baby join the family can still be exciting. Many changes can be positive, and as adults, we understand this and can reason through the process to the end result. Helping kids adapt to change can be a bit more involved. But is totally worth it if we take the necessary steps to help them learn how to cope with change.
As I write this, it’s September and kids are going to school for the fall. Some of which are starting school for the first time. Others are staying behind in Daycare as their friends go off to school. My little guy (Toddler G) is one of those staying behind. And while for the most part, he is doing well with the change there are some moments that make me wonder … how can I help this kid adapt to this change?
Of course, there are many changes in life that are bigger/worse then what he is going through right now. But as anyone with a toddler knows any emotion is a big emotion for our little ones. And all he has known for the last year are these kids he has grown and loved and played with. They have protected him from bumps and bruises almost as much as his Daycare Educator has. They have taught him new words, and celebrated fun times and been creative together. They have comforted him when he had owies or booboos and he has comforted them when they hurt themselves. He has known them for half his life, and now three out of the five of them are old enough to go to school.
He’s now one of the “Big Kids” at daycare, especially with the two new little ones that have joined the group. It’s causing some minor meltdowns at home.
So how can I help this Kid adapt to change?
If you have a kiddo like mine that takes time to adapt, and throws out some random emotional meltdowns when they are stressed here are a couple things that may help your child deal with change.
Communication is key
The more we talk about changes the better kiddo seems to adapt to them. When we were looking at putting him into Daycare I talked to him for 2 months beforehand about it. More to get me used to the idea than him (he was 1 and I didn’t think he would really understand until it happened). But when the time came he adapted to the change quite well and surprisingly quickly. Yes, there were tears, and he screamed when I dropped him off. But within a week he was happy to go and started smiling when we got to daycare.
Our Toddler G is a big talker. So when we are together I encourage him to talk, a lot. At the moment we talk about all the fun he has had with his friends and that he could see them again. I’ve also had some chats with him about what school is and why his friends are going there instead of back to daycare. And of course, we have some time talking about how much fun he will have teaching the new little ones the things he was taught by his friends.
It helps him focus on the fun and joy part, his brain isn’t able to make big leaps and connect the facts around a situation. SO we need to explain it in words he understands, sometimes repeatedly. And yes a toddler can understand more then we think. Depending on the child you may need to talk to them more or less about specific topics, our little man is very chatty, other kids are not always. Just keep it age appropriate and watch their body language to see how they are doing.
Allow for Feelings
It’s tough as parents to see our kiddos get upset. As a Mom I wish my kid was always happy, smiling and celebrating the joy of life. But that doesn’t always happen. And let’s face it tantrums are one of the least favorite parts of being a parent. Instead of diving in to stop or “save” them from the big emotions acknowledge them. Saying something like “I know you’re sad that you don’t get to see your friend anymore. It’s ok to miss your friend(s)” will let them know that it’s normal to have these emotions.
Listen to them, even if they don’t talk
This is something I try to use with everyone not just my Son. When someone is mad or upset, LISTEN TO THEM! Let them talk it out, even if it seems like something ridiculous or trivial to you. Stop what you are doing & make eye contact, and really listen to their feelings. When you respond validate their feelings and discuss the highs and lows of what they are dealing with.
Often things escalate because someone doesn’t feel heard or acknowledged. This can lead to bigger than necessary fusses and tantrums because they want to be noticed.
Routines are important for most people to some degree, it adds a level of predictability to our day and helps us be more comfortable with what is happening. With this in mind, we are sticking as close to his normal routine as possible. The more he knows what is going to happen next, the easier it is for Toddler G.
Children in general love and thrive on routine and knowing what is going on next. It helps them feel more in control in a world where they generally don’t have much control over what is happening.
Ensure proper sleep and nutrition
There are 2 times I’ve noticed that Toddler G is guaranteed to be cranky/fussy when he is hungry or tired. And if we are in the middle of a big change this only makes things worse. Just like with us adults, plenty of sleep and a full tummy can help keep their moods stable and feel like they are more in control. Which leads to happier, calmer kiddos (and adults too).
Maintaining a healthy balance in your little one’s diet also provides them with the building blocks that will sustain them through any change. Not just on the day of change (like moving) where it is helpful to provide snacks and other options. But building up to the change and well after will provide their body with the stuff it needs to build all those new learning pathways in their brain and keep them curious and learning.
When we are dealing with changes it usually means we have a lot on our plate too. As a result, we may need to be more aware of the fact that our little ones need our patience more not less. Not only are they adapting to the change along with us, but they are picking up on our levels of stress. As the parent, it is in our control to show our children that they are worth our patience. So spend those extra minutes at bedtime, or take a deep breath (or ten) when they have a meltdown and give your self-space and time to focus on what they need. Even if there are a million things pressing down on you.
Our bedtime routine lately has included more prayers from our prayer book, and extra cuddles, even when Mommy wants to get out of bed and back to blogging 30 minutes ago.
And when our little boy has an intense emotional let out, I take a deep breath and try to hold onto the patience to let him work through it. It’s not easy to be the parent watching your kid meltdown in the middle of any situation. It certainly makes my heart hurt when I see him crying because he doesn’t know how to handle this intense emotion.
Build Trust & Let them choose
Many times the best thing kids can see from us is that they can rely on us & that we trust them. Kids trust their parents, and with that trust comes the responsibility to be trustworthy. If you go back on your word constantly or don’t follow through on the promises you make, your kids will learn that “Mommy doesn’t mean what she says”.
A great way to build trust is to let kids make their own choices. Now I’m not saying everything about their life is something they should be choosing themselves. If that was the case kiddo would have stayed home with Mommy for the last week instead of heading to Daycare. But give them the choice of things that are age appropriate. For instance, Toddler G picks out his clothes every morning and gets to choose what he wants for breakfast (from the options Mommy has available). Also if we are in the van and he wants to call Grandma and Grandpa because he is missing them we do that.
We also get Toddler G to help with things, while I wouldn’t ask him to do a load of laundry on his own, he does come with me downstairs (usually dragging something to be washed behind him) and helps me put everything in the washer or move it between the machines. He also knows how to turn on the washer and dryer and that when Mommy says he can start the wash that he can hit the “go” button. Keeping these things in his regular routine helps him feel like he has some control over our family life.
Spend time with them
There are some things that we do in our house that are just Mommy-and-Toddler time, where Mommy and Toddler G spend time together just by ourselves. Often times we cuddle, sing funny songs, play games, reading and just have a blast. But the time is there, spent focusing on building our connection and keeping us relaxed.
Honestly, one of the most relaxing things that I do these days is read books to our son. Not only does it make him happy and help us connect, but for me it’s a bit of a self-care act in my daily life too. So jump in on the fun and play, take the time to just relax with them and not worry about all the changes happening around you. Because if there is one thing any parent knows, it’s that our kids pick up on our moods and emotions better then we think they do. So when you jump in and play with them they will get to pick up on all the fun you are having.
Let them know what to expect
The unknown is usually the scariest part of a change. However, if you tell them what to expect, or even better show them (where possible) it can help reduce some of the fear. So before big changes happen that you are expecting talk about it around your kids. Tell them what will happen, and about how far away it is. We already use the 5 more minutes of play before bedtime heads up in our house. When kiddo’s daycare was going on holidays for a couple weeks we talked about how he was going to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a couple weeks and counted down the sleeps. Stuff like this gets kids ready for change before it happens.
I’m told it’s especially helpful with things like new siblings being on the way and reducing the sibling rivalry… though I can’t speak to it myself.
Model how to adapt
Kids are sponges, they learn by watching what the people around them are doing. So show them how to make change easier to handle. If you are having to deal with a change and are stressing & complaining about it, guess what your little ones are more likely to do?
After having our little monkey copy what we are doing for the last few months it’s easy to imagine that Mommy & Daddy stressing and acting out will likely cause Toddler G to do the same. As we have more constructive ways of balancing that transition from past to current we are demonstrating to him how to adapt and grow in our own lives, not just talking the talk. 😉
Changes can be scary
Any change, big or small can be scary to us or our little ones. It can be hard. When our family has experienced life-altering changes I’ve felt negative and run-down, I’ve prayed for the strength to accept the change and move forward. And with each new challenge to have the grace, and courage to teach those around me to do the same. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it doesn’t have to hold back the joy in your family life.