In the past year my kids and I have had a large number of changes. My marriage of 16 years ended, we moved house, I started my own business (this blog!), we lost some friends and made some new ones. Change is never easy but it can be positive, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time!
4 steps to deal with change with less stress and happier kids.
I hate moving house; growing up I resisted every shift with tears and tantrums. One particular move my parents decided it would be easier for everyone if they enlisted the help of friends to do all my packing while I, blissfully unaware, went to school.
When I came home, my old room was empty and my new room ready to go: I was horrified–someone had touched my stuff and worse…they broke something. Moving house from then on became my most dreaded event, and yet, I still have to do it. In fact, I have done it 16 times in the past 16 years!
After move number 14 I decided it was time to stop stressing, shake off my old “scared of change” ways and embrace it.
1. Embrace change because it will happen anyway
We can resist change: whether moving house, changing jobs, losing a friend, or planning for a new baby sister, but, mostly, it arrives at our doorstep anyway. Change is life and I decided it was time to confront it head on.
I discovered that although it is pretty natural to find change stressful, there are actually some fantastic ways to cope with any changes, big or small, that life throws our way.
Change is something we are born to do
I know a few people who seem to love change–they get bored when things stay the same for too long (you might know one of those people too!). They change jobs frequently, move house unnecessarily, and learn a new hobby every year. They have obviously befriended change (and often marry someone who hates it!).
The way we view change makes a big difference to how we cope with it. If we see it as a negative thing, then it’s much scarier to face.
“I have accepted fear as part of life – specifically the fear of change… I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back….”Erica Jong, Novelist
Change is very necessary and natural. We change from the moment we are born: our skin, hair and even our bones are constantly renewing themselves. Each section of a child’s bone is replaced yearly with new bone, and even when we stop growing our bones continue to change.
Our bodies love change and we can use this to our advantage.
Our most incredible changes happen in our brains–changes that we, in fact, make ourselves. Our brains contain around 100 billion cells, waiting there for our instructions. Our thoughts can actually change how our brains look and work. Our ability to change is limitless because our brains are limitless! This means even the most reluctant of us, can change our minds on how we think and feel about change.
2. Take an active part in change because calm parents = calmer kids
Whatever changes we face, our children look to us as their guide on how stressout to be. Children are perceptive creatures and will pick up very quickly if we are feeling freaked out by a change. A positive attitude can make all the difference. (Of course, for some changes, such as loosing someone, moving cities, or a marriage breakup, a grieving period is not only understandable, but also very important for both adults and children.)
A positive attitude doesn’t necessarily mean being happy about your situation– it just means taking an active part in the change, rather than letting it bowl you over. Being proactive rather than reactive makes you feel more in control and less stressed.
- Tell your children that you think they are great at dealing with change.
- Talk about changes they coped well with in the past.
- Point out how much their body has changed and how we keep changing our whole lives.
- Discuss how change means the start of something new (the seasons are useful to show this idea to young children).
3. Get face to face with the change
Up until recently I preferred a head-in-the-sand reaction. When it comes to change, particularly moving, I had a fantastic ability to procrastinate and avoid packing. It never worked. The move date always arrived and I just end up with a frustrated husband, upset kids and a long, disorganised and stressful day.
People often deal with their health the same way. They know something is different, but hope that by ignoring it, it will go away. When you health (or your child’s health) changes it’s sometimes scary. It can seem there is little you can do about it, but every situation has elements that we can control and others that we can’t. For example, how informed you are and how you approach it.
Often most of the change feels out of our hands, but in reality there is usually quite a bit we can control and make decisions about. If nothing else, we can always control our reaction to changes: modelling a calm, proactive attitude as much as possible helps kids feel safer and happier.
- Help children to focus on what they have control over.
- Try to offer appropriate choices where you can. For example, they could be in charge of packing a special box of toys that are opened first when you arrive if you are moving.
- If the change involves someone passing away, children can help with part of a memorial service, e.g. would they like to remember them by letting off balloons, playing a favourite song or displaying some photos?
- Reassure your children about what is staying the same. If you are going through a marriage breakup let them know the days they will see each parent, that they are still loved by both of you and that they will still be able to take their favourite toys to which ever house they are at.
- Let them pack a special backpack with their most precious items as something they can keep with them and have control over.
4. Letting go and moving on
So how do we stay calm in the mess of change and let go of the past? Expectations are important. Expect that it will be messy and unsettling and plan for it.
- Allow enough time for your change to happen and for you to grieve. If necessary, learn about the grief process, heartbreak and healing. I talk about what is happening in your brain during heartbreak in my post Help your teen recover from a broken heart (the same process happens in adult brains). You might also find podcasts and books helpful. For some suggestions and to read about Post Traumatic Growth check out my post on Podcasts that helped me cope with my divorce.
- Purposely slow down: walk slower, breathe slower, eat slower.
- Practice self care: eat well, exercise, rest
- Free up some precious mental energy by writing down what is worrying you and making plans for what you have control over. (Overloaded brains create stress.)
- Reward yourself and your family for progress; don’t underestimate the power of distraction. If you have packed up the first room why not reward yourselves with a family game outside–exercise and fun are well known as great stress relievers. For some easy, free ideas of fun things to lighten the mood check out my post 10 simple activities to inject fun into your day with kids.
- Some people find relaxation techniques helpful such as tummy breathing, tightening and relaxing muscles, or visualisation stories. There are many books and apps available to help you learn these.
Learning to let go of the old and make room for the new will help you and your children move forward.
And to help your kids let go:
- Encourage them to talk about there worries and fears.
- Listen and try not to minimise them even if they seem silly from an adult perspective. Read more about how to do this in my post on tuning in to children’s emotions
- Children who worry a lot can benefit from learning relaxation techniques.
- Try telling a calming story at bedtime about taking the worries and putting them in a boat which floats away. Describe as much detail as you can. You could use soothing music or even sing the story for added relaxation!
- Access counselling if you think it will be helpful (especially in a marriage breakup or if someone has passed away.)
Ideas for different ages coping with change
Offer appropriate choices as often as you can so they feel a sense of control. Even young babies can pick their favourite toy, book or bib when offered a couple of choices.
Offer choices and emphasise: “It’s your choice”. Talk about things to look forward to, and good memories.
Encourage roleplaying of the change if possible, e.g. packing a box and going to a new house. Young children often deal with difficult events, emotions or changes through play.
Encourage them to problem solve: What will happen if…. If I do this then……what options do we have here?
Create opportunities for them to take responsibility for some part of the change.
Teens and Tweens
Most children this age are able to learn and understand adult coping skills (like those discussed above) however they will need your help and support.
Give them opportunities for choice and control over aspects of the change where you can.
Be aware that even if your child or teen seems to be quietly coping, they may still be struggling but are unable to express how they feel. Give them lots of support and time to open up about how they are going.
Have you found other ways to cope with change? Comment below about how change affects you and your kids. Remember to Subscribe to keep up to date with new posts and offers and feel free to send me an email introducing yourself and your family! I love to hear from people in our blog family.
Until next time