How to Help Your Kids With Big Adjustments

How to Help Your Kids With Big Adjustments

Change is hard, and most people out there don’t like big life ones. They can be scary, they can disrupt the order and routine in your life, and they come with a lot of questions. Big life changes can be very hard for many adults; however, they may be even harder for kids, who can’t quite grasp or understand the reason behind them.

When you make big changes in a child’s life, they’ll likely be scared, confused, and may even feel helpless or as though they don’t have a say in what’s happening. As a parent, or the important person in your child’s life, you’re in a perfect position to help him or her adjust to anything life throws their way. Whether you’re moving to a new state, a friend is moving away, or a sibling is going to college, here’s how you can help your child with any big adjustment in their life:

Prepare them.

No one likes to be blindsided. Whether you have teens or young ones, make sure they are aware of the change that’s about to happen and do your best to help them understand why it’s happening. Give them ample time to prepare, both mentally and physically. The more upfront, straightforward, and honest you are with your children, the easier the transition will be. Try to talk to your child about the challenges that may arise in the new situation and ease their mind that everything will be okay. The more prepared they are, the better they will be able to adjust.

Do your research.

Be prepared to talk your child through everything that is happening. The more prepared you are, the more prepared you can help your child be.

Answer their questions honestly.

There’s no doubt that children will have questions about whatever new situation awaits them. Maybe they’re going off to college and are nervous about what their experience will be like. It may help to tell them about your own experience. Be honest with them. Even if your kids are young, being open and honest will not only make any transition easier, it will also let them know that you respect them enough to answer them openly and this will help to build their trust in you. When going through a big change, your child needs to know they have someone on their side who they can talk to. This will help make them feel that way.

Keep as much the same as possible.

If possible, only give your child one big change at a time. Too much all at once will likely overwhelm them. While one area of their life may be drastically changing, try to keep everything else as normal as possible.

Let them be upset and take time to adjust

It’s not unlikely that when your child first learns of some adjustment they’ll need to make in their life, they might be upset. Everyone needs time to adjust to news and new situations. If your child isn’t happy with what’s changing, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean they won’t be happy eventually. Either way, give them time to adjust to what’s happening in their lives. Don’t try to talk them out of being upset or angry. Just let them feel what they feel.

Get them excited.

Many times, change can be fun. Whatever it is that’s happening, talk to your child about all the good things that will come of it. Moving to a new city? There will be so many new places to explore and new friends to make. Sibling going off to school? Now you’ll get so much more time with mom and dad. Keep yourself positive and excited and hopefully that enthusiasm will rub off on your child as well.

Give them the option to talk to someone else.

Maybe you can’t make your child feel better about the big change that’s happening. That’s completely okay. Give your child the option of talking to someone else, who may be able to help guide them through a tough or challenging time. Children can sometimes feel more comfortable talking to someone other than a parent, so if they need it, make sure, to give them that option. You can also look in your area for a professional that specialises in counseling children.

Having kids can be the biggest change that happens to anyone, and for the next 18 years, those children will also go through many changes for the first time – friends moving away, siblings going off to college, moving to take a new job. These things may seem like a very normal part of life – and they are – but it’s important to remember that for your kids, these new experiences are the beginning of a brand new kind of normal, and something that might take a little time to adjust to.


About the Author: Charity Ritter LISW-S

Charity Ritter MSW LISW is one of the founders of LIVE Wellness Center, Ltd. Charity received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work from The Ohio State University. Charity holds a License as a Licensed Independent Social Worker in the State of Ohio. She received her training working with adults at Riverside Methodist Hospital in the Psychiatric Inpatient unit as well as outpatient counselling at Vineyard Counseling Center.

After receiving her degree, she worked with children and families at the Rosemont Center where she received training and experience in working with children and families with a variety of mental and behavioral health issues. She received experience working with sexually reactive youth and in advocating for and providing outpatient therapy for children and families with significant mental health and behavioral health issues.

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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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