How to Help Children Navigate Change
None of us really like change...
We wouldn’t like it if someone came over and turned off the tv while we were in the middle of a show, or if we were reading a book and took our book. Maybe we adapt to it as we get older and accept that it's a part of life and growing up, but many of us still don’t like it. And children usually don’t either, especially if they are really into something in the moment. They like to know what's coming, to be prepared ahead of time for anything that might cause a disruption to their life, even the littlest thing like putting on their shoes and coat to leave the house. I get it. As a planner and detail oriented person I like to know what’s coming, too.
For small changes in a child's daily life I love using a timer. Either a phone or microwave timer, or if you have one, a timer that shows the time shortening as anything concrete is the most helpful for children.
I set the time for 5 minutes, give a verbal warning and then again at 3 and 1 minutes. When the timer goes off, I walk over to my child, get on their level and bring attention to the fact that the timer went off. If my child is agreeable we proceed to the next task. If my child is not agreeable then I help my child move to the next task with compassion and firm voice, "I know you want to keep doing ____ but now we have to leave so we have to put our shoes and coat on. I know you don't like that but it's what we have to do in order to leave the house. I will help you if you'd like."
When children resist change don't expect them to move on easily- they need our guidance and support, oftentimes physically.
This may mean you have to put your child's shoes on themselves or maybe it means that you do one and your child does the other or maybe you sing a silly song about putting on shoes or ask a silly question to break the tension.
Sometimes it may mean that you bring your screaming child out to the car and bring the shoes and coat with you. Children need consistency, clear expectations, and to know what to expect. So even if it doesn't always work- and it won't- you must remain consistent and over time they will learn that when the timer goes off it is time to stop the activity and move onto the next one.
Some great times to use a timer are:
When changing from playtime to mealtime
When preparing to go upstairs for bedtime
When it’s time to get out of the bath, or finish reading books
When getting ready to leave the house
When preparing to turn off a screen
Anytime you know your child might have a hard time shifting their focus and ending an exciting activity.
Timers are especially helpful if you have a strong-willed child or a child that likes to be home and has a more introverted personality. They need time to prepare to be around others and leave the house.