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Change is an inevitable part of life. Big life events can cause anxiety, insecurity and upheaval, and it can be difficult to know how to prepare little kids for the changes ahead when their understanding is so limited.
Here are a few of the life events that children could have to deal with:
- Moving house
- Starting childcare / school
- Becoming a big sister or brother
- Parents’ divorce or new partner
- Family member being ill or dying
Children can get confused, make inaccurate conclusions, and struggle to process their emotions. They may worry about the future or wonder if they are the cause of bad situations. And this is why it’s so important for us, as parents, to prepare little kids as best we can.
5 ways to prepare little kids for big changes
Be positive about the change
It’s hard to frame things in a positive light when we are worried or upset ourselves. But children need reassurance from the grown-ups around them.
They will look to us to see how they should be reacting.
If you are worried, your child will feel worried. If you are excited, your child will feel excited. So try to focus on the positive outcomes of the event.
Perhaps the death of your relative means they are no longer in pain. Maybe starting the divorce process puts everyone on the same page again and your home life will be more peaceful. When you talk about starting school, make it sound fun and safe.
Although there should be a focus on positive change, that doesn’t mean you should ignore any other thoughts and emotions. Both you and your child could be feeling angry, nervous, sad, stressed.
These emotions are natural and normal.
It’s important to listen to our children’s thoughts and allow them to feel those emotions. They might need our help putting words to the feelings they are experiencing. That’s okay too. Let them know that it is normal to have big emotions.
We can prepare little kids by saying things like “It will be sad to leave this house but our new house has a lovely big garden and we’ve bought those big dinosaur pictures to stick on your bedroom wall.”
Here, we’ve acknowledged that being sad is okay, but the focus is still on an exciting, new beginning.
Talk about what the change will look like
Often the scariest bit is the unknown – what will happen to me? how will things change? – so we need to shed as much light on the future as we can. Demystify the event by describing it in as much detail as you can (not necessarily all in one go).
Prepare little kids for school by finding out the routines and making comments at home like, “When you’re at school, you’ll be sitting down for lunch about now.” If you’re introducing a new partner, talk about where he could put his shoes or where he could sit at the dining room table, so it’s not a shock when it happens.
If you have to visit a family member in hospital, explain that there are lots of beds in a big room and that there will be beeps and alarms from time to time. When your new baby is on the way, talk about how your child can help out by watching the baby while mum makes dinner or cuddling him when he cries.
Try to paint the most detailed picture you can so that it feels normal and expected when it happens. This will help your little one to feel calm and in control.
Reading books that tackle these issues can be useful too. The books in the Usborne First Experiences Collection (aff link) are great for this (I’d recommend these for children aged 1-5 years).
Find a way to make continuity
As well as talking about changes, prepare little kids by walking through some of them before they actually happen, or carry on some pre-existing traditions in the new setting. For example, you could:
- start doing your morning school routine a week before school starts so it feels familiar
- park on your new street and walk to the local shops or playground a few times
- show your child how to make up a baby bottle or use the baby bath
- take some favourite books from grandma’s house to the hospital visit so they can still look at them together
Familiarity is key here. If it feels familiar, that will ground your child and help them to banish that “help, I don’t know what’s going on, everything is out of control” feeling.
We can prepare little kids as much as possible and still miss something, so be available. Give them opportunities to discuss what is going on. Reassure them that you are available to listen if they want to chat.
My girls will often answer questions that I ask via a soft toy that they won’t answer “in real life”. So be watchful and listen carefully to any clues that may show up some hidden concerns or issues. Try to be as tuned in to your little one as possible and use empathy to imagine how they might be feeling.
What changes have your children found most challenging? What helped? Do you find it easy to understand how your child is feeling or is it difficult? What life events are you facing in your household at the moment and how are you getting your little ones prepared? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link (aff link). For more info, please check out my disclosure policy.
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