Helping Preschoolers with Major Life Change

Helping Preschoolers with Major Life Change

Change is difficult for all of us. When major changes happen in a young child’s life – a house move, school change or parents’ divorce – it is important to consider the developmental state of your preschooler and be prepared to help her through the transition. Here are some tips:

  1. Prepare your preschooler but don’t over-explain! Provide your child just enough information to give him a heads-up that his life is about to change and create a time and place where he can hear you. Sit down at the table with some play dough or crayons and paper and as you play or draw together gently introduce the topic. For example, you might say, “Johnny, I need to tell you about something that’s going to be happening soon. Our family is going to be moving all of our furniture and toys from this house to a new house in a new neighborhood.” Give your child a chance to ask questions but answer his questions with brief answers rather than too much adult information. Children this age are more concerned about whether their sand box will move with them than about the fact that the family budget requires a down-size and reduction in expenses. If your child asks a question you don’t know how to answer, simply say, “That’s a really good question. I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. Let me find out and I will let you know.” Consult a child therapist or trusted peers and come back later with a simple and reassuring answer.
  2. Allow your child a permissive space to feel whatever she feels and express those feelings. Change is harder for some children than for others. It’s important that children hear you say, “Change can be hard. All of your feelings are okay! It’s okay to feel sad, mad, worried or scared.” Try not to be falsely cheerful about the change or down-play your child’s emotions. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to sit with compassion and keep telling her all her feelings are okay and you are here with hugs.
  3. Routine, Routine, Routine. Children thrive when there is predictable structure and routine. Keep the daily routine as normal and predictable as possible. Bedtimes, meal times, family rituals all should be adhered to. This will help your child feel secure through the transition.
  4. Circle the wagons. Be sure to inform your relatives, family friends, teachers and other care-givers about the change and how you are handling this with your child. Ask them to climb aboard in securing the child’s routine, affirming his feelings, and only answering questions with reassuring, brief concrete answers.
  5. Attend to your own needs. It is so important that you be sure you are taking care of your own physical, mental and emotional needs throughout this major change. Children need their parents to be healthy in every way, so take care of yourself. Seek counseling if necessary, exercise and nourish your body with healthy foods throughout the transition.
  6. Seek professional support for your child if signs of maladjustment are there. If your child’s sleep, appetite, mood, or social habits change for more than a week after learning about this major change, seek the support of a licensed professional counselor or mental health practitioner who works with young children. Play therapy is a powerful tool to assist young children in adjusting to the major change in their lives.

When major life changes occur, young children need reassurance that they will be taken care of, they will have loved ones nearby, and that there are concrete items and experiences they can still count on.

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