Posted on February 7, 2012
Children often have difficulties coping with change. These could be everyday minor transitions such as moving from one task to another (such as packing up toys and coming to have tea) or from one environment to another (such as home to school). Or the changes they face may be much more significant such as dealing with bereavement or illness, moving house or school or the addition to the family of a new baby.
Some changes are unexpected and unwelcome and some are anticipated and (to their parents at least) positive. Whatever the change children often need help dealing with a multitude of feelings which they frequently don’t understand. Their discomfort may be reflected in withdrawn, sulky, regressive behaviours or ‘testing’ behaviour. Or they may get physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, eczema or stomach cramps.
Acknowledge feelings -To be effective and helpful to their children parents need to be able to look beyond behaviour to its causes -very often feelings of some kind – and help the child to deal with those feelings. Parents can help their children identify and manage their feelings and encourage them to express themselves through reflective listening. This results in better behaviour and a strong bond between parent and child.
Reflective listening isn’t about “making it better” or making the child’s feelings go away. Instead it is about recognising, understanding, accepting and naming the feelings the child has and making sure the child knows it is ok to have those feelings and that they are familiar to the adult. It is about encouraging the child to put his feelings into words so that parents can help him cope and so that those feelings don’t get suppressed and later emerge in behaviour or physical problems
Prepare for change -Where there is big change what is familiar and safe disappears and the future feels uncertain.
When there is loss through death or divorce a child may wonder if the rest of his life is secure. Will other loved ones go? Will other certainties disappear? When a new baby is expected or has arrived a child may wonder if he is still loved. When going to school for the first time everything is unfamiliar. Fear is the primary emotion. Since there is a lot of fear in the unknown parents can help by talking a lot about the change, helping the child understand what is happening and making it more familiar.
Some children also need help adjusting to smaller changes. They need more warning of transitions so they can get used to the idea even if it that only means giving 5 minutes warning that they will need to pack up their toys and come to tea. These children need to be told in advance if someone else is picking them up from nursery or if a parent is going away on a business trip or if granny is coming to stay or even if both parents are going out and a babysitter is looking after him. It can spectacularly backfire and result in lack of trust if parents try to ambush a child with this kind of temperament because they fear his reaction. What works is a combination of preparation and reflective listening.
How to reflectively listen:
Stop what you are doing and pay attention to your child. If they are talking convey with your body language that you are listening. Convey that you have the time and interest to listen to your child. You might sit close to him, cuddling him, maybe making eye contact if it is appropriate. Some children will find it easier to talk when they’re doing an activity alongside you or when the lighting is low. Use empathetic noises, such as ‘umm’ or ‘I see’
If they are not talking about how they feel take time to look for the feeling behind your child’s action or words and imagine how he is feeling; reflect it back to him in words. Give your child the sense that this is manageable, that it has a name, it is recognised, that you’ve had that feeling too.
Give wishes in fantasy Giving your child her wishes in fantasy shows you understand how she feels without suggesting that the fantasy is really possible.
Don’t try to make it better, children don’t need protection from feelings of sadness – they need to be able to cope with it.
Moving house: “I think you’re worried about moving. Although you are excited about your new room you are also going to miss this house as you know it so well. It is hard to adjust to changes. When we pack everything up it might feel strange”
Changing schools: “You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools. You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly. You might miss your old school for a while and that is really normal. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”
New baby -Pre-baby: “Mummy is having a baby and it will be different for you. You are used to having me to yourself (or there just being you and Freddie) and it might feel strange for you to have to share me. You might feel jealous of the baby.”
Post-baby: “The way you snatched that toy from the baby shows me you might be feeling a bit jealous. He has so many new things and so much attention. Maybe you feel a bit left out. It has been hard to share mummy since he came along”.
Small transitions: “In five minutes you will need to pack up the lego and come and have your bath. I know you love your lego and you have been working on it for ages. What a wonderful house you have built! It might be hard for you to drag yourself away but that’s the kind of self control you showed yesterday when I told you it was time to leave Jamie’s house. You wanted to stay but you hardly made any fuss at all and you said thank you to Jamie’s mummy.”
“I know you sometimes feel sad when I drop you off at nursery. You wish you could stay with Mummy all day. Miss Emma tells me that sometimes you feel your ‘magic stone’ in your pocket and that helps cheer you up a bit. That’s very brave of you!”
Wishes in fantasy: “I bet you wish Spot was still here with us, wagging his tail and jumping up in excitement when you came home. Maybe you wish things never had to change.”
Set up for success;
Children, like all of us, find it easier to succeed/cope when well prepared, even if what we’re asking them to do is different or a challenge. One of the best ways to prepare for success is by talking through situations, events and changes in advance. Prepare a child well in advance for upcoming events particularly if they don’t react well to change. Don’t ambush them. Tell them as far in advance as possible and repeat often – they may react adversely but every time the reaction will be less until by the time the dreaded event comes round they will be used to the idea. Involve the child as much as possible in any solutions
“This afternoon we’re going to the doctor. I know last time we went you got a bit upset because you needed to have an injection and it hurt. Today I want the doctor to have a listen to your chest because you’ve been coughing so much and you haven’t felt well. He will listen with something called a stethoscope. You’ve got one in your doctor’s kit. He might ask you open your mouth so he can look inside and he might hold your tongue down with a special stick. We can practice using those things in a minute.
You might feel a bit nervous. People often feel that way when they don’t know what’s going on. I’ll try to explain everything to you or the doctor will. If you feel worried will you tell me or shall we have our own secret code so you can let me know? Is there something else you could do or take with you that will help you to feel comfortable?”
Starting/changing school. Prepare by:
• Talking about common concerns:
o Will the teacher like me?
o Will the other children like me?
o Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
o How will I know what to do?
o What if I get lost?
o What if I need to go to the loo?
o I don’t like the look of the toilets.
o I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
o It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
o How will I remember where to put my things?
• Familiarising your child with the school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. See the parts that will affect your child- his classroom, the loos, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground. Explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
• Getting any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it.
• Role playing conversations with other children to help make friends.
The Parent Practice