Help your child cope with change
Many kids find new adjustments such as starting or changing schools, and unfamiliar routines traumatic. Michelle Shaw suggests ways to help your child adapt with ease.
Take your cues from your child
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"Children are often more adaptable than adults, and many parents worry unnecessarily about how their kids will cope in a new or difficult situation," says Carelse. She suggests parents follow their child's lead and answer questions as they come up. "At the same time, give them the message that all children worry a little before a new situation and that it's OK to be apprehensive." She suggests talking about previous occasions when your child was nervous about something, but actually coped well.
Don't put on an act and be too bright and breezy. "Too much hype is always suspect," says Eastwood. "It covers up your own uncertainty and anxiety, and the child will sense it." She advises being honest and straightforward, without going into too much detail. "For instance, say: 'You don't know the other children yet, but you'll soon learn their names and decide which ones you want to be your friends.'Admit that it's scary to start a new school, but brainstorm some ideas with your child that may help make it easier, like organising a play-date with a new friend. Also be on the alert for 'horror stories' he may have heard about the new school – and don't laugh them off. To your child, these can pose truly formidable challenges, and he needs you to put the situation into a realistic context. Reassure hi m that nothing bad's going to happen to him and that he can count on your support, no matter what happens."
Prepare your child for change
"Talk about the changes in advance and use games, stories or role-playing to help your child become accustomed to the idea and visualise himself in the new situation," advises Carelse. She suggests, for instance, getting books out of the library which involve stories about a child on the first day of school. "While reading the book, chat with your child about how it might feel going to school for the first time," says Carelse. "If your child believes the child in the story is happy and looking forward to the experience, then he's probably feeling that way himself. However, if he imagines the child in the story is anxious, frightened or insecure, then you need to explore this further."
Familiarise your child with his new surroundings
If possible, take your child on a visit to his new school beforehand and introduce him to h is teacher. Let him walk around the playground, find out where the toilet is, where he'll put his bag, etc. These little details are things children find terrifying if they don't know what to do. (However, don't do this too long beforehand, or your child will forget what he sees. Try to plan it a few days before the term starts.) Find out as much about the daily routine as possible so he can begin to visualise how his first day will progress. Perhaps find an older child at the same school who can chat to him before the term starts and tell him exactly what it's like, and what will be expected of him.
Keep as much the same as possible
Children love the predictability of routine – it makes them feel secure. When your child's confronting a change in some area of his life, try to keep as much of the rest of his life as normal and familiar as possible. "Children need a safe structure in which they're free to explore and experience the opportunity of change," says Eastwood. "Put more simply, everyday routines like bed-time, bath-time, meal times and the arrival from work of Mom or Dad need to be as normal as possible." Regular meals and sleeping times are especially vital when it comes to small children, as they become incredibly ratty when they're tired and hungry, and tend to lose whatever coping skills they have!