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Helping Your Child Deal with Change & Stress at School

Learn how you can help your child cope with the big and small changes in life. Reduce your child’s stress and teach them how to thrive when change happens.

Most of us, and especially children, appreciate some level of predictability in our lives. Children need time to process all of the information that they are exposed to and appreciate daily routines that offer a sense of security and safety.

10 Suggestions for Helping Children Work through Change at School

  1. Invite them to talk about their feelings.
    • Listen to whatever they say—to their anger and sadness and confusion.
    • Validate their feelings and let them know that whatever they’re experiencing is OK.
    • Allow children to guide the conversation with regard to how little or how much they want to know or talk about.
  1. Help them see the elements of stability in their life and school.
    • Name all the teachers and adults who aren’t leaving or who will remain in the new setting.
    • Name the classmates who will stay or who they will remain with in the new setting.
  1. Assure kids that the foundations of their community and learning experience will be strong.
    • Even if a beloved staff member or principal is leaving, don’t fall into catastrophizing with your students or children.
    • Help them see that their experience in school is more than one person, program, or other element.
  1. Make sure they don’t take the change personally.
    • Kids tend to blame themselves when things go wrong.
    • Make sure to emphasize that they did nothing to cause the school to close or to make anyone leave/drive someone away. Children can tend to believe that they may have done something wrong to result in a school closure or a teacher/staff member changing schools, quitting the profession, or perhaps being released from their position.
  1. Direct children to see what they are in control of.
    • Unwelcome change makes people feel like they don’t have control over their lives.
    • Ask your students or children, “What are you free to choose right now?” and they’ll be reminded of their own power.
  1. Guide children to focus on a positive future and what might be possible a year from now.
    • Help them imagine making new friends, forming strong connections with other adults, and finding joy, community, and fulfillment at school.
    • If there’s anything they can do to make these things happen (such as making new friends or joining a new after school club) guide them to do those things.
  1. Allot a brief time for worry.
    • Especially if you have a child who worries all the time, suggest a 15-minute time during the day when they allow themselves to worry.
    • When they start worrying at other times, remind them about their designated “worry time.”
    • Suggest a worry journal or worry art to use these brief times.
  1. Ask children:
    • What really matters here?
    • Help them see the big picture, gain perspective, and keep the change in proportion.
  1. Help them connect with their own resilience, coping mechanisms, and energy.
    • They have dealt with change and challenge before.
    • Help them access those resources and remind them that they will get through this latest challenge.
  1. Help them see their own resources for making changes that they desire.
    • Help them think about how to be proactive about creating the kind of school and experience they want, even in the face of unwelcome change.

Adapted from Edutopia: Supporting Kids through Times of Change

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Change

  • Give advanced warning. Discuss what’s happening honestly, but positively, "My work needs me to move to a place called Georgia. I feel a little scared, but I’m excited about a new adventure too. Will you help us pick out a new house?”
  • Maintain consistency. During a big change, like adding a sibling to the family, try to keep as much the same as possible. Wait, for example, to move your child from a crib to a bed.
  • Children often have many questions and may ask the same question repeatedly. This is one way children gain mastery over a situation and build resilience. Keep answers simple, age-appropriate and positive. Be honest if you don’t know the answer to a question.
  • Expect some regression. During times of change, children may regress to earlier behaviors. For example, a child who was toilet trained may revert back to having accidents. This is normal.
  • Accept grieving. Children may grieve changes, even happy ones such as a move or the birth of a sibling. Listen, don't be too quick to distract, acknowledge emotions, and remind them of all the positives.
  • Read children’s picture books. Reading books together is one way to restore a sense of connection, safety, and peace. Read a wide range of books, including a few that relate to your specific situation. Look for books with adult and child characters who work together to overcome difficult things.
  • Play together. Play is one of the best ways for children to work through stress and change. Head outside for a game of tag or gather some leaves. Make cookies, play a board game or engage in pretend play. Play is good for both children and adults!

Understanding and Supporting Children Through Stress and Trauma: Ages and Stages

What Happened to MY World?

Children view the world through their own unique lenses at each stage of development. They have their own sensitivity to change, unexpected events, and distress, and they respond in their own ways and with differing intensity.

Adapted from Bright Horizons.

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