Annie Keeling: Change takes change
Life is filled with change. This last year has been especially unusual in that regard. Adults aren’t the only ones adjusting to the many changes in our social fabric. Children need our help and guidance to create a healthy approach to change.
Our Attitude toward Change
With the introduction of any change, whether it’s a slight change like a new rule or a big change like a move — it’s helpful for the parent’s attitude to support the change.
Some children have a harder time with change than others, but there is usually some level of difficulty for all kids. A new experience occurs, and the child often has no warning or preparation.
A chaotic reaction to change can be very normal. Change Readiness will help lessen a child’s anxiety, resistance, and off-track behaviors toward a change.
Here are three steps for Change Readiness.
1. Be ready and sure. Your confidence is the key to change. If you are hesitant about shifting something, this will make it more difficult for the child. When the time for change is right, or change is inevitable, your child looks to your self-reliance and certainty around the change. Have as much information as possible. It’s also helpful if a parenting partner is in agreement with the change.
2. Prepare. Practice an upcoming experience and play out possible scenarios. Hold a family meeting or find a neutral, unhurried time to propose a change. What if your child is used to you lying next to him in his bed as he falls asleep and you are ready to teach him another way. Two choices can be helpful. “We’re making a change tonight. I won’t be staying in your bed until you fall asleep, but I will stay in the room. Shall I sit in the rocker or lie on the floor?” Practice the change when possible before the change happens. “Let’s go in the bedroom and practice how it will go tonight.”
3. Make the Change…and Acknowledge it. Feelings of loss, grief, or unhappiness are natural when a change is made. Encourage your child that they are normal to have those feelings. Let them know change is difficult and that you can accept their upset feelings.
Power of Three
Use the Power of Three to help a child make a change, whether it is behavioral or a new experience. The parent provides three opportunities for the child to gain an understanding of what will happen. Space the three out, but don’t let too much time pass. This is part of the child’s preparation when making a change. Here’s how it goes:
1. Before an event, such as the night before, show or tell your child what is going to happen or what behavior you expect.
2. Show or tell them the morning of the event or a few hours before the event occurs.
3. Show or tell them just before the event, perhaps as you pull up in the car.
Don’t Overtalk. Be Brief. The act of repetition is helpful. When small children are learning something new, repetition is good. Whenever possible, incorporate different learning styles, such as visuals, movement, or sound.
Let’s use swim lessons as an example. The day before the first lesson, the parent shows a picture of a child in a swim lesson. Ideally, the sun shines, children smile or laugh, and the instructor looks happy and confident.
That evening, while splashing in the tub, the parent describes what the swim lesson will be like, using a rubber or plastic doll to physically show some movements.
On the way over in the car the next morning, the parent briefly touches on key aspects of the lesson that have been discussed the day before. When the child arrives, it will still be a new experience, but preparation can do wonders to relieve the initial anxiety.
Here’s another example: Addy is 4. She is going on her first plane ride with her family. Her dad finds a Google photo of a girl sitting on an airplane and shows it to Addy. He describes what the plane looks like and how the seats are arranged. He shows how everyone must sit in their seats on the airplane. The girl needs to sit in her seat for a long time, but he will bring lots of snacks and things to do together. This appeals to the visual learning part of Addy’s brain.
Later that day on the swings, he talks about how the plane goes up and she might feel that funny feeling in her stomach like when the swing goes up. Same with going down. This appeals to Addy’s kinesthetic or movement learning sense.
The next day, her 7-year-old cousin visits and tells her all about the plane ride she took last year. This is verbal sharing that appeals to her auditory learning skills as well as the added element of interpersonal learning with another.
The Power of Three can help with behavior expectations, especially when going to a new event. As social opportunities return, there will be chances to discuss what is appropriate behavior at a friend’s house, a shopping mall, a party, or a library. While children will still need reminders and opportunities to increase their impulse control around these behaviors, at least they will be clear on what is expected of them in different social situations.
A benefit of Power of Three is that expectations are clearly provided for the child. This increases the child’s feeling of safety by observing that the parent oversees the bigger picture. It’s a useful practice for behavior management. And it helps to build the child’s maturity and confidence.
There are times that no amount of preparation can keep a child from feeling scared or upset. If a child is really fearful, encourage her to release feelings through tears, movement, or role play (with dolls, trucks, puppets, etc.) Tell stories or find books of a similar fear to help the child understand it.
Keep your concern or discomfort in check. Wait to share that with your parenting partner or a friend. If you are hesitating at the preschool door, looking worried and biting your lip as you watch your child with concern, then the child will clearly sense your discomfort. It is not just words but our tone, body language, and our thoughts as well. As with any change, as much as possible, be confident and sure.
Annie Keeling, MFA, is the Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Currently, she is teaching parenting classes online. Contact Annie for more information: email@example.com or 530-268-5086.
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