Helping kids cope with big changes

It can sometimes be really challenging to cope with the big changes that life brings. This is particularly true for kids, who may be going through these experiences for the first time. Here are some examples of big changes that some kids have to deal with:

  • Parents who separate or divorce
  • Moving to a new place or new school
  • Having a new baby brother or sister
  • Loss of a loved one
  • New step-parents, blended families
  • Becoming ill
  • Older siblings growing up and moving out
  • Changes in your own body – puberty

Whether or not these changes are welcome or unwelcome, planned or unexpected, or even a normal part of life, each change requires adjustment and acceptance. And this can sometimes be really hard.

How to help your child adjust to change:

  • Helping your child starts with acknowledging the impact of events on him/her. As adults we sometimes forget this because we are so caught up in the situation ourselves, and are so busy doing all the practical things needed to cope with the change. It is really important just to take the time to consider the ways that important life changes may affect our kids.
  • If possible, talk about it with your child before it happens. This is important even for changes that are welcome or positive (eg moving house, sister getting married). If you can, give your child the opportunity to ‘say goodbye’ to the old, before embracing the new.
  • For really distressing or traumatic changes, be open to talking about what has happened when the child is ready. Let your child know that you are willing to talk about things, and let them set the pace. It can be really upsetting and confronting to talk about distressing changes. You may find that your child prefers to talk about the issues when you are doing a task (such as driving in the car or washing the dishes) as this can make the discussion feel less intense.
  • Give kids honest, age-appropriate information. It is better if kids understand that (for example) Grandma is very ill, rather than pretending that nothing is wrong. However, at the same time make sure that what you say is age appropriate. Keep it simple, in language they understand. And don’t over-share things that are adult worries (like financial or relationship problems).

When to seek help

Change is a part of life. Many kids and families cope well with the changes life throws at them – there is a period of adjustment and then kids bounce back. So how do you know if your child could benefit from seeing a psychologist?

  • If some time has passed since the change, and you notice that your child continues to be upset and irritable despite your best efforts to help them adjust, it may be helpful for them to see a psychologist. We have ways of helping kids express how they are thinking and feeling, and helping them learn to cope with what has happened.
  • Sometimes the life change is something that is upsetting and difficult for the whole family to cope with, parents included. As a parent it can be really hard to talk with your child about the issue and help them, when you are barely coping yourself. As psychologists it is our job to help you as a family to deal with and adjust to the change, and to build resilience.


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