Change is messy – but it’s part of life

Change can be challenging and unsettling, but it can also be an opportunity to learn and grow. How can you help your child become comfortable with change?

NEWS 7 Jul 2022

The past few years have brought many unexpected changes to the lives of young people.

COVID-19 brought lockdowns and remote learning. Because of restrictions, children and teenagers were affected in different ways. They couldn’t play team sports, socialise with friends, and enjoy events like school formals, graduations and milestone birthdays.

Very quickly, life and routines changed.

Research from The Australian National University (ANU) found the changes flowing from the pandemic have had an impact on the mental health of young Australians. The research found 61.8 per cent of parents and carers with children aged five to nine thought their children’s mental health had worsened, and 63.4 per cent with children aged 10 to 14 said the same.

Helping children learn to accept and adapt to change is an important life skill that parents/guardians and schools can help to build, says Maria Bailey Haileybury Director of Counselling Services.

“Children and young people have experienced a pandemic that brought unpredictability and uncertainty, but change serves a purpose,” she says.

“Change can be hard but it’s important to help children and young people see different perspectives and to find a sense of realistic optimism when change happens. Finding acceptance is also helpful and can bring a sense of relief.”

Diane Furusho, Haileybury’s Deputy Principal (Student Wellbeing, Respectful Relationships & Consent), says looking for growth opportunities when change happens can help young people feel more empowered to deal with uncertainties.

“There will always be things in our life that are beyond our control, but it’s important not to dwell on those and instead to look at what we can control when change happens,” she says.

Here are 10 ways you can help your child cope with change:

1. Break down change:

Look at what is changing overall and then break it into small, manageable steps. Perhaps your child had planned to do one thing and now they have to do something else. What steps do they need to take, and what does your child need to actually do, to work through that change?

2. Get the right support:

When children feel unsettled, connect them with people they trust and who make them feel safe. That maybe a favourite family member, a teacher, sport coach, mentor or someone in their close friendship group. Peers become especially important for teenagers, so create opportunities for them to connect with friends. If you or your child need further support, you can connect with your GP or a psychologist.

3. Help them be kind to themself:

Let children and young people know that change can be tough and it’s OK not to feel OK about it sometimes. Encourage them to rest and nurture themselves and perhaps suggest that each day, they name three things that have gone well for them that day.

4. Remind them that they can choose what they focus on:

While they may not be able to choose the changes that occur in their life, children can choose what parts of change to focus on and how to view and react appropriately to change. They can focus on the negatives or acknowledge that things have been tough and then look at what positive things they have in their life.

5. Present change as a way to learn and grow:

The word ‘change’ can create a sense of unease, fear and discomfort. Instead, talk about change using words that are optimistic and hopeful. Change brings new opportunities and it also brings a chance to learn something different, to make mistakes and to learn from those. Celebrate how your child manages change.

6. Be there:

Create time and opportunities to listen to your child talk about the effect change is having on their life. Foster a ‘be there’ environment by promoting compassion, listening, being curious, talking and reflecting. Problem-solve together so they can take ownership and have confidence that they can work through change.

7. Build your own knowledge:

If parents are uncertain about what change means in a child’s life, or how best to support them, get advice so you know how to help. Talk to other parents who’ve been through a similar experience or look online at respected and reputable websites that offer advice on navigating change and building resilience.

8. Help your child create a wellbeing plan:

When life is challenging, taking care of physical and emotional health matters. Help children set up a good sleep routine and a study routine to manage schoolwork and homework, feed them a nutritious diet and help them maintain sport and social connections.

9. Don’t resist change:

Change is part of life and resisting it is often pointless and disheartening. Children might face changes like moving home, changing schools, moving interstate and developing new friendship groups and routines. Discuss why change is happening and what is going to change but…

10. ...Remind them that some things will stay the same:

When change happens, there will always be some anchors in a child’s life to keep them steady. Some things won’t change, so remind them of the things in their life that are familiar, secure, reassuring and that are staying the same.