Children and Change: Perspectives, Implications, and Strategies

In January we think about change, and wonder how the year will unfold. Here are some guidelines parents can use to help kids welcome and benefit from changes that may occur—and especially changes that might take place in school settings.  

It’s hard for parents to foresee what might transpire in a child’s life as a direct result of changes, whether they occur at school or elsewhere. Change can happen any time, and it can be big or little, expected or unexpected, painstakingly slow or lightening fast. Moreover, change affects kids in different ways. In order for parents to promote and ensure positive change-related experiences for their children, it helps to be familiar with possible implications, and with some strategies for supporting change processes. Here are some basic guidelines.

Understanding Change

“Change can be _________. “ Fill in the blank.  Perhaps you’re thinking exciting or scary, or inspirational. There are countless possibilities. Descriptors will vary from one person to the next, and will depend on context, and on how an individual feels about previous change experiences. Parents who recognize and appreciate the complexities of change, and who take time to reflect upon the causes and consequences, set the tone for good development opportunities for their children. There’s no doubt that we live in an ever-changing world. Successful change entails planning, preparation, and commitment—as well as adaption.

Helping Children Adjust to Change

It’s not productive to avoid or fear change. It’s far better to be open-minded and welcome it. Help kids develop confidence, resilience, and enthusiasm by modeling a growth mindset. This means showing them how to accept change by seeing it in a positive light, anticipating what might possibly lie ahead, and setting a sensible course. These steps will serve to reduce or eliminate apprehension and ensure a smooth transition. Offer children information about change, including the reasons for it and what will likely occur as a result, and provide encouragement, guidance, and support as needed. Think through the potential academic, social, and emotional implications. If change is apt to be unsettling in one or more areas, it’s especially important to be available, to listen carefully to what your child has to say, to talk about it together, and to be amenable to considerations such as adjusting the pace, extent, or nature of the change process.

Educational Change

Change is inevitable. But for now, let’s focus on school-related change. For example, the status quo at your child’s school may be shifting as children’s individual needs are identified and addressed, as educational policies are revisited, and as teaching practices and learning opportunities are extended. There may be program modifications, technological advances, innovative modes of instruction, or new learning environments. Naturally, parents hope that any such changes their kids encounter at school will be appropriate, timely, and productive. Teaching children about flexibility and patience can help pave the way for them to cope more effectively with ups and downs. Although many changes in schools are quite seamless, this is not always the case. Work together with teachers, and stay attuned to your child’s feelings. This will help mitigate problems in the event that a change experience becomes intimidating, impractical, difficult, or disruptive.

A Brief Checklist for Supporting Change at School

Parents who seek to support their children during times of change might want to think about the following tips:

  • Take careful stock of the nature and extent of the change, and the reasons for it. Consider the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it—and inform your child in ways he can comprehend. Knowledge is empowering.
  • Try and work out what the implications of the change might be, in particular with respect to your child’s reactions and comfort level, taking into account his past experiences, and resilience in similar kinds of circumstances.
  • Check out the availability of support services at school and within the community, including people involved in planning and implementing the change, and those who might be able to provide measures of support.
  • Determine if the complexity of the change might call for some refinement so as to be more accommodating of your child’s individual needs, or to offset any potential adjustment issues you might foresee or observe.
  • Take a deep breath. There’s a lot to be said for time and patience.
  • Read stories together and talk about positive change, about others who’ve prevailed during transitions, and about how to acquire a growth mindset—all of which will contribute to a strong foundation for developing adaptability.
  • Consider outside or unexpected factors and influences that may have a bearing on a change process. Pay attention to these as they arise, and encourage your child to do likewise.
  • Be mindful. If it becomes apparent that your child needs increased support, encouragement, or coping strategies, get professional help.

Of Relevance

When all is said and done, there’s little to be gained from pointless change. Relevance is a key component. For example, a meaningful change initiative might have to do with creating a better fit between your child and the school system, and it could involve different instructional materials, classroom placement, teaching methods, or learning activities. Share understandings such as these. When a change is in the works, talk it through with your child. And remember, change is likely to be more successful if it evolves from negotiation and cooperation among all parties. So be flexible, thoughtful, and collaborative, as you help your child navigate in new directions—now, and in the months ahead.






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