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  • Children are often labeled as highly resilient. While this is true to some extent, children can still be affected by changes in their routines. Whether a child is adapting to a new school, a new community, or simply a new schedule, it is important to understand how children can be impacted by change and what families and caretakers can do to help them ease into new transitions.

    How Are Children Impacted by Changes in Their Environment?

    A child’s world is smaller than the world of their adult counterparts. For this reason, their world can often be disproportionately disrupted by small changes in their environment, compared to adults. Unlike adults, children do not have the freedom and independence to make big changes in their environments. Instead, they are vulnerable to others introducing changes on their behalf. Many children also do not have the ability to reach out to familiar support systems when they feel untethered—they are less likely to be able to rely on peers for social support or seek out articles pertinent to their individual situation. Instead, children are more limited in their coping mechanisms and their ability to seek outside help when needed.

    How Does Changing Schools Affect a Child?

    Does changing schools affect a child? Yes—however, the specific impact and degree to which changing schools affects a child can vary greatly. The timing of a school change can also play a role in how greatly a child is affected by a school transition. For example, a kindergartener who moves to a new school for first grade and begins the new school year along with all their other classmates may have a different reaction to a school change than a high-schooler who changes schools in the middle of the school year and is the only one in their cohort experiencing this transition.

    Changing schools can impact children in a number of ways:

    • A change in schools represents a change in their physical environment. A child must learn and adapt to a new building and a new way of navigating through that building, which may take some time.
    • A new school also brings a change in a child’s expected authority figures—there are new teachers, aides, and support staff members to get to know, each with their own unique operating style.
    • A change in schools can also represent a changing set of expectations for a child. For example, at a former school, they may have had a different length of passing periods, a different system for getting lunch in the cafeteria, or a different system for turning in homework.
    • A different school means a new set of friends and social connections, which can greatly impact a child’s experience of school and their perception of their comfort with their environment. Socially, a new school provides a child with an opportunity to present themselves and their personal identity to others, which can feel both empowering and overwhelming.

    How Does Changing Communities Affect a Child?

    Similar to changing schools, changing communities can affect a child, as well. Sometimes, a change in community is very intentional and deliberate, and families may have the ability to exercise precise control over where they are moving. In these situations, families may be able to lay the groundwork for change far in advance, helping children gradually adapt and warm up to the idea of an upcoming change in stages. However, in other circumstances, as in the case of military families facing a temporary or permanent change of station, a change in community is less foreseen or predictable.

    Other Major Changes and How They Can Affect a Child

    Outside of changing schools or communities, there are a number of other changes that can affect a child because they can alter a child’s routine. These changes can include:

    • A new sibling
    • Divorce or separation of parents
    • Changes to the everyday makeup of the household (i.e., an older sibling goes college, a parent goes back to full-time work outside the home, or a family member begins living in the household)
    • Changing to a new room or bed
    • A new activity that brings new expectations

    Even a change that may seem mundane to an adult, such as adopting a new pet, can affect a child due to a change in their routine. For example, if a family has a new puppy, a child may have a change in their sleep patterns (with more disruptions and earlier wake-up times) and a change in their responsibilities, both of which require time for adjustment.

    Signs That a Child Is Having a Difficult Time With a Transition

    Depending on the age of a child, they may not have the language skills to verbalize how they are feeling when their environment changes. So, the effects of a change may be more subtle than those in an adult. Families and caregivers can pay attention to certain cues that may indicate that a child is struggling with a recent change, including:

    • Becoming more withdrawn or more clingy
    • Asking more questions than usual or shutting down when asked a question
    • Showing signs of anxiety, such as chewing nails, tapping feet, fixating or ruminating on small challenges
    • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
    • New behaviors that display a sense of trying to regain control over their environment, such as acting out or showing increased sensitivity

    While these above signs may indicate that a child is having difficulty with a change in their environment, it’s important to recognize that change is not universally bad. While transitions can be hard for children to navigate, with proper support and guidance, a transition can often lead a child to a more positive situation or environment. Having the experience of undergoing a change in their environment and successfully adjusting to it can also help increase a child’s self-esteem, priming them to confront future changes with more confidence.

    Tips and Tricks for Helping Ease Children Through Life Transitions

    Supporting children through life transitions can be intimidating. Many families wonder how to switch schools or communities in ways that won’t negatively impact their children. Fortunately, there are many transition strategies in child care that can help children and their families successfully navigate change.

    Tip #1: Keep an Open Line of Communication

    The most important strategy for helping children transition is allowing space for plenty of discussion about the change. Often, difficulty with transitions stems from how an initial transition was introduced: Did a child feel a sense of being blindsided? Or did they have an idea that a change may be on the horizon?

    Parents can have introductory discussions to help children adjust to the idea of change in both formal and informal ways—by setting up specific times to discuss details and asking open-ended questions during random downtimes, such as while they are driving in the car. Parents can also reference the upcoming change in constructive, non-threatening ways. For example, they can talk about aspects of the upcoming change that excite them (i.e., “I’m so excited to be able to walk to the library from our new house!”), thereby modeling for their children how change can be framed in a positive light.

    Tip #2: Pinpoint and Emphasize Age-Appropriate Constants

    If a child is changing schools, parents can help identify and emphasize aspects of life that will remain constant. Working with children to identify the things in their schedule that will not change can help them feel like they are on more solid ground as they get their bearings. For example, if children have a favorite swim coach or piano teacher, parents can focus on how this person will continue to be in their lives without any changes. If a child is moving to a new community, the constant may be something like always sitting down for family dinner at the same time or watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.

    Younger children who have special comfort items, such as stuffed animals or blankets, may become more attached to these constants during a transition, and parents can even introduce a new object or “friend” as a constant that will help provide additional comfort and support.

    Tip #3: Engage Others To Help Ease the Transition

    Parents can help their children transition to a new school or new environment by laying some groundwork in advance. Instead of sending a child off to their first day in a new school and crossing their fingers that the transition goes well, parents can help scaffold things by contacting a teacher or other supportive adult at the school in advance so they can provide special observation and support for their child. Parents can also reach out to other parents of future classmates to arrange for a small social gathering prior to their child’s first day so that children will have a familiar face or friend to help them navigate on day one.

    Tip #4: Adopt a System for Tracking Progress

    Recording their feelings about an upcoming transition can be a healthy outlet for older children to process their experiences and adapt to any change. Journaling or writing in a diary can also help children track their personal progress. Sometimes, it’s difficult to notice incremental improvement, but tracking their emotions over the course of time can help reinforce for a child that they are adjusting and adapting at their own pace.

    Tip #5: Encourage Decision-Making

    Oftentimes, children cannot be directly involved in big decisions, but they can benefit from being able to exert control over smaller decisions. For example, a child starting at a new school may not be able to choose the school, their teacher, or the start time of their first class, but they can very well choose their new backpack, lunch box, or first-day outfit. Similarly, they might not be able to pick their new town but they can choose which local takeout restaurant to try first or decide where to hang the posters in their room. Giving them control over smaller decisions can help them have more of a sense of control and self-efficacy.

    Tip #6: Avoid Projections or Assumptions

    Making self-referential remarks (such as “Oh, I remember how nervous I was when I had to start at a new school when I was a kid”) can help make children feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles or concerns. However, families should be cautious about projecting too much of their own experience onto a child’s experience. Instead, it’s important to allow children to come to their own conclusions about how any given change is affecting them. Families may be surprised to learn that a childhood experience of their own that was very difficult is unexpectedly exciting to their child—or vice versa.

    Tip #7: Seek Professional Guidance

    Families who are looking for additional support to help their children through a life transition can consider professional support. Telemynd is an online resource that offers virtual appointments with licensed mental health professionals. Its secure platform and licensed therapists and prescribers are ready to give families the support they need, especially when experiencing a big life transition. Telemynd can provide services to people five years and up nationwide and accepts most insurance, including TRICARE.

    Telemynd also has extensive experience working with families in the military community and is well-equipped to support their mental healthcare needs before, during, or after a PCS move, ensuring a smoother transition for all family members.

    To learn more, contact us today.


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