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August 31st, 2016

Helping your child with Change

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 a meal) or from one environment to another (such as home to school) or even from one person to another (parent goes out leaving a babysitter in charge). Moving from holiday mode to term time routines involves change and at the beginning of the school year additional change as children move up a year or move schools or even start school for the first time. 

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 Their discomfort may be reflected in withdrawn, sulky, regressive behaviours or ‘testing’ behaviour.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, stomach cramps. 

Some children have more trouble with changes than others, depending on their temperament. Does your child really thrive on routine and need warnings of changes in routines? If they are flexible that’s great but if they’re not try to see this trait as stability and organisation. 

Preparing for change: 

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. 

Where there is change what is familiar and safe disappears and the future feels uncertain. 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. 

If your child is starting a new school (perhaps for the first time) you can help familiarise them with the new school by:

  • Visiting the school and viewing areas that will affect your child more than once, eg classroom, toilets, playground, etc
  • If you live close by go past ‘their’ school frequently. If not get a picture (off the website) and put it on the fridge or somewhere prominent. Look at pictures of the school and school life on the website.
  • Meet the teacher
  • If possible get to know some of the local kids going to the school-ask the school to let them know you’re interested in meeting up. 

For kids starting ‘big’ school:

  • Get the uniform and any other kit well in advance and practice putting it on/using it
  • Play ‘schools’ with your children so that they get used to the idea of sitting quietly on the mat or at tables, putting up their hands, forming lines –give lots of stickers for good behaviour
  • Practice essential skills for school like going to the toilet without help, using scissors, being able to read their name, sharing
  • Read books about starting school. 

Prepare by talking about common concerns:

    • Will the teacher like me?
    • Will the other children like me?
    • Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
    • How will I know what to do?
    • What if I get lost?
    • What if I need to go to the loo?
    • I don’t like the look of the toilet block.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • How will I remember where to put my things? 

Emotion coaching

To be effective and helpful to our children we need to be able to look beyond behaviour which may be annoying or downright difficult to its causes -usually feelings of some kind – and help the child to deal with those feelings. We can help our children to express themselves in words. This results in better behaviour and a strong connection between parent and child. 

Emotion coaching isn’t about ‘making it better’ or making the child’s feelings go away. Instead it is about recognising, understanding and accepting their feelings and making sure the child knows it is ok to have them. It’s important that feelings don’t get suppressed or they may emerge later in behaviour or physical problems. 

Children often feel things much more intensely than adults as they don’t yet have the experience to gain some perspective on a particular situation. They usually need help to express in words how they feel and help dealing with them. 

The following behaviours indicate that a child is experiencing powerful feelings.

  • Appearing withdrawn or sulky
  • Refusing to do what s/he’s been asked to do
  • Being silent when spoken to, refusing to join in the group, talking back, using a disrespectful tone of voice, slamming doors, crying, hitting someone, throwing things or damaging property.
  • Mean-spirited behaviour with a sibling
  • Body language, eg no eye contact, clenched fists, hunched shoulders.  

Emotion coaching: 

Stop what you are doing and 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’. 

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 express it. 

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  I guess 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”. 

To ensure good communication the adults must make opportunities to talk. Sometimes these come up when you least expect it and they may not be at very convenient moments. Your child may open up at bedtime or something may come up as you’re trying to get them to school or the childminder. You can invite opportunities for conversation through reading books, playing fantasy games or doing an activity together. 

Get your child off to a good start this year by understanding what’s going on for them.

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