One of the best parts of life is change. One of the worst parts of life is change. How is that? As exciting as change can be, it can also be daunting, even frightening. Even a person who generally adapts well to change will experience apprehension about some of life’s changes at some point.
If we experience fear of change sometimes, what about our children?
Their lives are in a constant state of change. Just think about the physical changes they go through from infancy to adulthood. They’re also processing enormous amounts of new information and learning at a rapid pace. As a parent, you no doubt work hard to build in your children the resilience they will need to cope with these changes.
There are bigger changes that our children must adapt to. What about the loss of a parent or grandparent? Divorce? A parent remarrying? How can you help your children adapt to changes of this magnitude?
As a child, your son or daughter depends on you to help them make sense of major changes in their life. You must take the time to help them understand what is going on and adjust. The guiding principle here is to slow down and communicate.
Here are some key communication guidelines for parents:
Like all people, children need to know they are loved and cared for. It is also important for them to believe that someone needs and relies on them. They want to know their existence and presence makes a difference to other people. Listen to your children and support them. As kids navigate new situations and inevitable disappointments, they need to know that they’re not alone. Cultivate a warm, strong relationship.
Talk to them openly about what is happening, and give them opportunities to tell you how they feel, without criticism. Regardless of how you feel about the changes and how you are ready to proceed, you need to know what your child is thinking and feeling.
Be in tune with how each child is dealing with the changes in their life. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to children. Each child is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Some can handle more than others. This means spending time with each of your children individually and allowing them to share their own feelings on the matter, separate from the rest of the family.
A key part of developing resilience and dealing with change is emotional management. Teach your kids that emotions are okay! It’s okay to feel. And it’s okay to feel differently than their parents about a situation. They need to know that what they share will be respected and safe.
Answer your child’s questions. Some of them may be painful. You may think your child isn’t old enough to understand. But honesty is vital when helping your children adapt to big changes in their lives. If they can’t get a straight answer from you, who can they turn to?
Be honest about your mistakes. Some big changes come because of mistakes made. Making mistakes is a part of life. Life is about learning something new every day. Sometimes those lessons cause pain, or even permanent scars. It is natural to not want your children to see those mistakes or experience any of the pain associated with them. But know this: whatever stress you are feeling as a parent, your children are feeling it as well.
Use the situation as a teaching tool. Demonstrate to your children that failure is not the end of the world. Show them that it is absolutely possible to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. Be honest with them about what is happening and why. If you are honest, it not only teaches your children a lesson, but it also helps them forgive and start to heal.