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Help your child cope with change

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Transition stress

How can you help your child cope with the stress of change, such as a new school or new routine? Change is harder for some than others. The transitions between the school year and summer, home to vacation, even between parts of the day can cause stress. What may be fine for us as adults may produce anxiety for our kids - and resulting behaviors. With a little acknowledgment of transitions and planning, you can help reduce transition stress both in the short term and long term.

Transition stressWith the new school year upon us, you may have experienced some issues with transition stress already. Perhaps your child isn't sleeping as well, or a little testier or sillier than usual. Maybe you find yourself more anxious.

Whether you or your child have been able to verbalize the source of these behaviors, recent transitions are worth looking at. There's a reason that stress evaluation quizzes note major transitions as sources of stress - and even if those transitions are ones you want and/or are for the better.

Don't dismiss the anxiety

The first step is acknowledging that change is hard, both for you and your child. Validating feelings followed by some serious reassurance and hugs can go a long way to easing the stress. It can be a simple, "Hey, sweetie, I see that you're a little more anxious in the mornings before school. I completely understand that it's hard to adjust to a new schedule. Let's work together to see how we can make it easier or better for you." We all want to be understood.

Similarly for you, you can seek out support from your partner for your own transition stress. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness - and asking for help from your partner can help maintain your connection to one another.

Small steps

If you can, break down really big transitions into smaller steps. Maybe your child is struggling with an emotional leap from Kindergarten to 1st grade; you can break that down into steps that seem less big - it's a new teacher and new classroom, yes, but it's still the same school building, still the same school day, still the same bus ride, and so on. And, of course, you are still going to help your child along.

Keep consistency where you can

During times of transition, keep consistency where you can. A known element can be reassuring when everything else feels up in the air. Whether it's dinner time routine, a regular weekly family outing or even just the same afternoon snack as usual, routine and consistency is helpful while the new parts of the day settle out and become more familiar.

If it's more than just "change"

If after an appropriate amount of time, the transition doesn't seem to be easing, it may be something more. Maybe something else is going on at school that your child hasn't told you about, or maybe for you some deeper sense that something is not going to work out long-term. These follow-on signs should not be dismissed. You can seek out others that might have knowledge of the situation in question for assistance - or maybe just as a sounding board.

Eventually, transition stress does settle out over time. Acknowledging and reassuring can help ease even the seemingly simplest of changes.

For more tips on helping kids cope with change:

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