I’d like to know how to 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? 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 cozy. 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 how 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.
How to help my child deal with change: 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 that 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 though they will, without even realizing it, reinforcing that way of behaving toward the child.
Once you’ve ruled out that, then there are a couple of things you can do to ease his transition from one thing to another. First, make sure he can see what’s going on visually. 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. It’s 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 give him an idea of how long he must wait for anticipated events.
How to help my child deal with change: Remember he’s looking at you.
After that, he will learn a lot about how he accepts transitions from your reaction. 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 than not 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 they had ended 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 so 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 fun to look forward to will help.
Lastly, I’d try to 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 take each part of your body and “put it down for a nap.” 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, over the long term, give him confidence that he can manage stress and all that goes with it.
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I hope that helps.
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