Helping Your Child Adjust To Change

The fall season has arrived and with it, many families are transitioning into new work, school and daycare routines. Children, just like adults have different levels of adaptability and flexibility. Some adjust readily to new situations and settings without batting an eye, whereas others feel the disruption of change more intensely.

Imagine for example, four-year old Andrew. Andrew is an outgoing boy and over the summer Andrew’s parents have watched him demonstrate strong social skills like sharing and asking others to play. Andrew’s parents wouldn’t describe him as “oppositional” but he’s not necessarily “easy-going” either. Every once in a while, he’ll express a very strong temper. He is intelligent for his age, knows all his letters and is even putting together some basic sight words. Andrew’s mom anticipated him doing very well in his Pre-K setting, however, this first week of the new routine he has quite literally fallen apart. Andrew’s teacher says he is disruptive, defiant and even downright rude. At home, Andrew’s mother doesn’t see any of these behaviors; he’s been tired but that’s about all. Andrew’s parents are embarrassed and concerned- how should they help?

My first recommendation for parents faced with this kind of question mark is to step inside your child’s world. This may not be with words. Typically, kids clam up if they feel grilled. Open the door for communication through play or art. Draw a picture of your own day- mention your work environment, people you talked to, even food you ate. You can talk some while you’re drawing even if your child doesn’t. Share feelings. This may break down some walls and tune you into something that may be bothering your child. If your child likes playing with dolls or figurines, you could act out your day as well. If your child feels receptive, ask him to act out what goes on his classroom or daycare.

I also recommend promoting consistency. Difficulty with change could be as simple as the fact that change is difficult- and more difficult for some. To counterbalance the newness in your child’s life, stick with familiarity at home. Re-instate a regular bedtime routine if things were more lax through the summer, prepare ‘staple’ kind of foods your child knows, read familiar stories and use words to describe your routine and plan. Some children respond very well to knowing what’s next.

If it’s ruled out the classroom is an uncomfortable place for your child (ie. he feels nervous, disliked, frustrated by the activities etc), this could just be defiance. For each day that your child is defiant in school, discipline him at home. Stay consistent and calm in your discipline tactics- explosive, overly harsh or inconsistent discipline does more harm then good. The goal of discipline should be to teach, not shame. Promote positive behavior with a reward system. Pick something special your child values- time at a park, play-date with a friend, an extra half hour of screen time- keep it simple. Help your child keep track of his progress towards his happy goals using stickers, pictures or some other fun image. The positive incentive could be enough to get him back on track.

Hiccups in your child’s behavior, development or academic performance should be expected especially in times of change. However, if the disruption is pervasive and persistent, seek out a professional assessment and intervention.

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