I have a question about how to help my child deal with change? It is soon summer camp season and my five year old son is excited to attend. Last year we found while he LOVES camps, he is always sad to see them end and becomes anxious about the next one- he really likes routine and for things to stay the same. How can I help him transition through? Thank you, Amanda
You’ve asked a really interesting question. Yes, generally children love routine because it gives them a predictable idea of events going forward and makes them feel all warm and cosy. Having said that, transitions from one activity to another are often difficult for children. Depending on their age, kids don’t yet have a good understanding of time and long things last and that can sometimes be distressing for them. Sometimes too, parents accidentally reinforce issues with transitions. It’s a common issue that I deal with as part of my parent support services.
Watch what you do
Parents might for instance, express worry about their child’s ability to handle change and maybe talk on the phone to Granny in their child’s hearing or friends on the back deck. I’m not saying necessarily this is happening to you but it is something you want to rule out. Often we accidentally reinforce issues our children are having by anticipating a certain response on their part. In other words, it’s easy to actually start believing your child is going to have an issue and to start acting as thought they will, without even realizing it, re-enforcing that way of behaving to the child.
Once you’ve ruled out that, then there a couple of things you can do to ease his transition from one thing to another. Firstly, make sure he can see visually what’s going on. If you’ve used a calendar in the past, I would suggest you use it again as children need to have that visual reminder as to what’s happening when. Its even better if he can participate by marking either on a computer or on a calendar a big X every day, so he can physically tell how long time is lasting. That will help him with the idea of how long he must wait for anticipated events.
Remember he’s looking at you
After you’ve done that, he will get a lot in terms of how he accepts transitions from you. If you are confident and express to people within his hearing how well he deals with them, he’ll start to believe it himself. When you’re busy doing things together, explain to him that even though these activities are fun, each one of them will end but it’s better to have lots of fun for a short time, that not to experience the camp at all. Give him some examples of how sad you were when fun things ended in your past, like holidays but show him how you worked through those moments by accepting that it had finished and then anticipating and planning for next year’s event.
I’d also physically show him either the booklet or the web page of possible camp activities. Even though he won’t be able to read it, you can explain how we can only do some many camps this year, because otherwise (aside from issues of affordability), if we did them all at once, there would be no camps to go to next year! Let him show you which ones he might like next year and even though the final decision is yours, he will still enjoy offering his input and the thought of something else that’s fun to look forward to, will help.
Lastly, I’d try and teach him some stress management techniques to help with his anxiety. Perhaps you could play games that get him to focus on his breathing and teach him how to go all floppy in different places in his body. You could play a game where you lie down together and then takes each part of your body and ‘put it down for a sleep.’ It might be fun and you may well have a good laugh together trying to make it work. You start with one leg and then another etc. Teaching him ways to manage his anxiety, will give him confidence over the long term that he can manage stress and all that goes with it.
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Hope that helps.