People often talk about how easily children adapt to change. It is true. Children from infancy up through adolescence can often be great with making BIG change- sometimes even better than adults!
Whether that big change is a move, a school change, divorce, cancer in the family, or something else- there are ways to help your kid cope with the change! However, the truth is, your child may just be coping or struggling in a way that you can't see on the surface. Big change impacts everybody.
So, what do you do when big change happens-whether your child is showing problems yet or not?
#1. Don't stop being their parent. I know this one may seem a little ridiculous. However, many parents shift into friend mode when they are concerned about their child. A parent can have aspects of a great friend, but a friend can't be your parent. Be compassionate. Be loving. Talk with your child. But, at the end of the day- keep your role clear in your mind. You are going to raise a great kid, and they need a parent to make that transition. Great parents are playing the long game and look at the big picture. Just because it may feel uncomfortable right now- doesn't mean it isn't what is best for your child.
#2. Don't parent out of guilt. When parents feel responsible for the big change, whether it is due to moving for a job, divorce, or even having health problems, they can sometimes start to make decisions based on the guilt they feel. This can be mean bedtimes aren't enforced and consequences for bad behaviors aren't followed through on. However, the more stability you can provide for your child or teen, the easier the transition will be. Help them understand what the "new rules" are for the big change. Don't make "change rules" and then expect them to easily transition if you try to revert back to the old rules when you realize that parenting out of guilt won't help your child be a great human.
#3. Don't default to retail therapy. Did you know that when we purchase something our brain gets excited? In fact, it can trigger some of the same pleasure responses as gambling or illicit drugs! The problem with buying your child or teen things to help them feel better, is that the high for you, and for them, quickly wears off. You can both end of feeling frustrated that these "things" aren't really having the long term feeling you are looking for. Focus on learning for yourself what helps you manage the change, and teach those strategies to your kids. Are you focusing on just using a glass of wine or a Xanax to cope? That won't work for your child! Learning ways to tap into your brains natural relaxation system will be incredibly powerful for you, and is something you can pass along!
#4. Do sit down, with and without your children, and do some future dreaming. What do we want our lives to look like in 3 months, in 6 months. Focus on things that are within you and your child's control. (A fantasy of winning the lottery will not help your child cope long term). Once you identify separately and together what you want to see change- start making small incremental steps towards being the family that you want to be. Simple steps like going for a walk after dinner each night can help you move towards many goals: family togetherness, physical health, stress relief, etc.
#5. Be available. Your child won't always want to "talk" about what is going on. In fact, younger children are often more likely to use play to work through change because they don't have the skills to articulate what is happening verbally. Even older teens don't want to be grilled. However, making sure you have individual 1:1 time without distractions can allow for conversations to happen. Go for a hike. Do an art project together. Dig in the dirt once a week. It can be really difficult to invest that time when it isn't clear it is helping- but it is very powerful!
Bonus tip: Do you have trouble getting your kid talking about anything? Are you perplexed about what is happening. Try a few quick parenting hacks: #1. Two truths and a lie. A silly game where you share three things that you did that day. Two are true, one is a lie, and the other person has to guess the lie. You will be amazed at how well this strategy works with many kids and teens. #2. Be still, watch, and trust your intuition. If you notice big change with your child's behavior or something feels "off" don't dismiss your concern out of hand. Use the strategies above, get some parent coaching from a therapist, or explore counseling for your child.
The research tells us that most kids get through big change just fine. A divorce, a move, cancer, these are not the end of the world. Be smart about supporting your child through the change, but know that big change is also an opportunity for growth for you, your child, and your family. You are the leader in your home, and you can help your child cope with big change!