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Supporting a Child with Change

As I sit here as a parent of a very soon to be secondary schooler, I am writing this article feeling all of the emotions. Waves of anxiety, worry, angst and pride mix up into parenting at this stage and I am all too aware that my daughter is feeling a whole host of these different emotions too.


Change is hard. And with it comes uncertainty. For us, as adults, it is difficult and yet we have emotionally mature brains (though sometimes questionable I admit!) whereas our children do not have the capacity to regulate, as we do. 


Whether you are parenting a child who has entered into the school system for the very first time, entered into high school for the first time or simply moved classes within the same school, change and transition still comes with mixed emotion. Uncertainty fuels anxiety and worry – we don’t, as a whole, enjoy the not knowing. We thrive on certainty and routine as a species, and so when change rears up, this challenges our attempts to control every potential outcome. Our children feel this ten times more.


The pre-frontal cortex of their developing brains is not yet fully adjusted to understanding the world. This part of our brain, the ‘personality centre’ is the cortical region that makes us uniquely human. It is where we process moment-to-moment input from our surroundings, compare that input to past experiences, and then react to them. Without past experience, we have little to go on – we are entering new territory. And we know that this part of the brain, is the last to mature – in some, as long as 30 years.


So how can we support them through change, transition and any turbulence within their early life?



Change is a fact of life, and helping our young people understand the potential positive outcomes of change is a helpful starting point. Teach them that our brains need these new experiences to shape us, to help us to grow and to nurture our ability to process difficult emotion. Remind them that once they have taken that leap, the first big step – that they have done it! However difficult an emotion feels, it cannot harm us physically. It is simply just emotion. Anxiety and worry feel uncomfortable, yes, but they will always pass. All emotion will pass.


Once our children have completed a few weeks within their new class or school environment we can remind them that they have done it, they have moved through the most difficult first step and sat with that uncomfortable feeling of doing so. They are amazing for that. Celebrate with them - something we do a lot of at Bridge the Gap is completing a ‘Book of Truth’. A Book of Truth is a scrap book of photos, quotes, sayings and reminders that they have moved through change and difficult emotions that came with it previously. Something they can, in time, look back on and remind themselves that they have built a little more resilience because they have succeeded in facing new challenges and expectations placed on them.


“Do you remember when I was worried about not making any friends? Look how many I have now!”


Reminders that they have achieved their goals, encourages them to become resilient adults with the ability to sit with emotion that is uncomfortable.




Settling in to a new routine sometimes takes a little longer than we felt it might. All of our children are different and it is important to go at their pace. If they are struggling, reach out and speak to adults around them such as teachers or assistants who might be able to offer a little extra support. Slow down your pace a little too – what does the early school rush look like at the moment? What are the expectations on them after school? Maybe take some time to reflect on these key moments (before and after school) and what you can add in or remove, to ease a little pressure for them.

Some simple tips might include the following:


·        Use play when it comes to placing a demand. For example, “How fast can you tie your shoelaces, let’s time each other!”


·        Give choice wherever possible as this allows them to feel a sense of control, “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after breakfast?” “Would you like cereal or toast today?”


·        Connection, connection, connection; often our children struggle to leave us because we are their safe adult, their whole world, and we help them to feel secure and regulated in their emotional state. Consider how you can build connection in – do you have time for a short cuddle and story in the morning, is it worth waking them a little earlier to fit this in? Perhaps a quick game of Top Trumps after school before tea?


·        Allow screen time straight after school; this is when they need to have expectations and demands removed. Allow a good amount of ‘chill time’ before starting any homework or chores.


·        Ensure you have lots of snacks on hand straight after school to let them re-fuel!


·        Consider what their bedtime routine looks like, ensure lots of connection time for them to chat through worries if they have them (as this is often when they surface!).


Remind them that they are doing it – they are sitting through emotion every day, facing new challenges and learning all of the time. They are amazing for that and you are amazing for supporting them through that and being their cheerleader.



 

For further support around transition


School Transition Parent and Child Webinar (thinkific.com) - A webinar for parent and child together recorded LIVE for you to access.


Book Online | Bridge the Gap (jwbridgethegap.com) - An up to date list of what we have on at Bridge the Gap to support children's mental health and emotional wellbeing. Look out for specific groups on transition.


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