How can I help my child cope with change?

“The only constant in life is change”

Heraclitus

Change is inevitable. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have all experienced more change than usual and, at times, this has been undeniably stressful and unsettling. Even as adults we can struggle to cope with change despite having the ability to prepare for, adapt and rationalise things. So, what must it be like for young children, who aren’t yet able to do any of those things?

There are multiple changes that a young child is likely to face, all of which can impact on their emotional wellbeing:

  • A new sibling being born
  • Moving into a new house
  • Parents’ relationship breakdown
  • Parents working away for extended periods
  • Death of a family member
  • Transitions (between rooms within the nursery or between preschool and primary school)
  • Changes in care routine e.g. potty training or transition from a cot to a bed

All of these changes can create a predisposition for emotional outbursts, tantrums, heightened anxiety, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, bed wetting or unwanted behaviour in young children.

We can’t avoid these changes. So, what can we do, as Early Years Educators and parents, to make these changes as manageable as possible for our children?

Don’t:

  • Assume that a child is ‘too young’ to be affected by change. Even young babies can pick up on subtle changes in the mood or stress levels of their parents.
  • Ignore changes, whether they are positive or negative. The more open you are about the change you are experiencing as a family, the more willing your child will feel to share their own thoughts and feelings about them.
  • Make the subject of the change feel like a taboo that your child isn’t allowed to talk about. This could cause the child to hold on to lots of uncomfortable feelings that they think they can’t express to you.

Do:

  • Involve your child as much as possible, to make them feel as though they have been afforded some control. They could help you to care for their younger sibling, choose the paint colours for their new bedroom, or pick which underwear they would like to wear when they move out of nappies.
  • Use photos and story books to help explain the change the child is experiencing. If you’re not sure about what language to use, there are plenty of amazing books out there that can help you out (see recommendations at the end of this post). These can help to simplify changes in a way that young children can better understand. Photos, for example, of your old house, or a pet or family member who has passed away, can be an excellent prompt for discussion. You could say things like ‘Look at this lovely photo of […]. I know you feel sad that they aren’t here anymore. I feel sad too, and that’s okay. But we have lots of happy memories, don’t we? Do you remember when we went to […] and did […].’.
  • Inform the nursery. The more we know about any changes going on for the children we care for, the more we will be able to support them in the setting.
  • Be forgiving and understanding of challenging behaviour and use emotional coaching (see our guide) to help your child work through the feelings that are causing the behaviour.

KTB Kids Guide: https://www.ktbkids.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/KTB-Kids-Guide-to-emotion-coaching.pdf

Hayley’s blog post about emotional literacy: https://www.ktbkids.co.uk/emotional-literacy-why-your-naughty-child-may-just-need-to-learn-to-read-their-feelings/

Book Recommendations

New sibling

  • ‘What’s in your tummy, Mummy?’ by Sam Lloyd
  • ‘I’m a Big Sister/I’m a Big Brother’ by Joanna Cole
  • ‘There’s a House Inside My Mummy’ by Vanessa Cabban

Moving house

  • ‘My New Home’ by Marta Altés
  • ‘Topsy and Tim Move House’ by Jean and Gareth Adamson
  • ‘Moving House’ by Anne Civardi

Potty training

  • ‘On My Potty’ by Leslie Patricelli
  • ‘The Potty Book for Girls’ and ‘The Potty Book for Boys’ by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
  • ‘Once Upon a Potty- girl’ and ‘Once Upon a Potty- boy’ by Alona Frankel

Grief

  • ‘Lost in the Clouds’ by Tom Tinn-Disbury
  • ‘The Memory Tree’ by Britta Teckentrup

Starting School

  • ‘Starting School’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Parental Separation

  • ‘Where Did You Go Today?’ by Jenny Duke
  • ‘My Family’s Changing’ by Pat Thomas
  • ‘Two Homes’ by Claire Masurel