Life Has Changed
Dear Tacit (repeated from a letter written last year, because it is just as relevant now),
The holiday season will be upon us soon, and our family has gone through a big change, so things will not be the same this year. How can I help my kids cope?
Signed: Life Has Changed
Dear Life Has Changed,
Change is hard for most of us. We count on the regularity of a process or tradition or pattern of behaviour to bring us comfort, familiarity and security – all of which helps to create calmness and peace of mind. When things are different, especially by no fault/choice of our own, our anxiety gets piqued because we don’t know what to expect. And our mind imagines the worst. We become certain that the new way of being will not be as good or as fun or as safe as the old way was. We anticipate needing to be “on” and not relaxed. And we worry that we won’t be able to handle the changes well, the first time that we experience them. Change is a part of life. We cannot escape it. And we can seldom control when it is going to happen. The resistance that accompanies change is also a normal part of the adjustment process. So, helping our kids learn how to adapt and grow with what comes their way is how we help them manage.
Explain the process of change to your kids. They need to expect that the new way will not feel right or work perfectly, the first time – and that this is normal. Help take the pressure off of them and encourage them to accept the strangeness that they experience as a good thing and not something akin to failure or a mistake.
Ground them in or connect them to the parts of the process that will still be the same. Reassure them of what is not changing, even if it is just a very small thing, so they are reminded that it’s not all going to be different or hard. They need to be able to hold onto some familiarity and comfort as they also accept the newness of what will be happening.
Give your kids the opportunity to control some of that newness. Have them be active participants in creating the new way that the traditions or routine will roll out. When we feel like we have some say or input into something new, we are more likely to positively engage in the process.
Encourage the release of the sadness or anger or fear that they may experience as they transition between the old and the new ways. If they cry or show attitude or seem sullen, it is not a personal attack on you. It’s not an indicator of whether or not they will accept the new change eventually. It’s just a release of their emotions and it’s very healthy (as long as it’s done appropriately, of course). Give them permission to let out the feelings of grief and loss, over and over again, as the change is happening (and even afterward sometimes).
When the holiday season (or the change itself) has wrapped up, make sure to spend time with your kids reviewing what happened. Use the gift of hindsight to help them see how strong, capable and brave they were as they adjusted. Help them connect to the positives that resulted throughout and because of the change experience. Be sure they can look back on the process with a growth mindset, so they can use what they went through to help them in the future. Use the experience as a learning moment and an anchoring reminder of their success, as more change comes their way in life.
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