Ask the expert: coping with change

an upset child leaning on a swing because she is learning to cope with change - tots to teens

How children cope with change in the early years will support them as they navigate the inevitable changes throughout their lives, explains Michela Homer, BestStart Professional Services Manager.

The ups and downs in life, supported by loving adults, help children to build resiliency which enables them to successfully go through larger challenges and changes in later life.

For young children, change usually occurs through instances that are beyond their control, such as starting at a new early learning centre, having their best buddy leave, having a favourite teacher leave, or moving into a new room in their early learning centre as they grow.

As adults, we can help our children adjust to change in ways that minimise their fear, anger, or frustration. By simply adding a layer of routine, structure, and consistency to their changing world we can ensure they are as actively involved in these changes as possible.

It’s important to note that when young children experience changes, they may not be able to express these in ways that we always understand. It will help your child if you able to guide them to express their emotional regulation in supportive ways. You can do this by labelling the emotions, saying things like, ‘Are you feeling sad?’ or ‘I can see that you’re upset’, and offering ideas and suggestions on how they can work through this.

New children arriving

Starting at a new early learningcentre can be a huge change for a child used to being at home with a parent or caregiver. Talk to your child about this process in a positive way. When you get to the early learning centre, tell them when you’re leaving, and let them know you’ll be back later on to pick them up. The more consistent you are in this routine, the quicker they will adapt to the change and understand that when you leave, you’ll always be coming back. Sneaking away when they appear settled can develop a sense of uncertainty and fear, and result in them taking longer to adjust to their new environment.

Friends leaving for school 

When a best buddy leaves for school, your child may be unsettled for a while as they readjust to making new friends. You can support your child through this process by making your child aware of what’s happening in an optimistic way. You could explain that when children reach a certain age, they go to school, just like their best buddy. Ask your early learning centre if they have a relationship with the school such as pictures of the school, or regular visits made to the school. That way you can also share some of the information about the school with your child. It’s also a good idea to talk to the teachers about who else your child engages with throughout the day. By knowing this information, you can talk to your child about their other friendships and seek to help your child to settle once their buddy has left.

Moving into a different room/age group

At many early learning centres, children may transition into another room as they get older. It’s great to plan this well in advance with your child’s early learning centre team. Ask them for their transition process. Ask to meet the new teachers so that you know their names and can start talking to your child about the new teachers. You may want to visit the room that your child is transitioning into and ask them how they plan their day and routines. Questions like, ‘Where do we hang their bags when they arrive?’ and ‘Who will greet me and my child when we come inside?’ will help you and your child to understand the routines of the room and be able to settle in faster.

A beloved teacher leaves and a new teacher arrives 

It’s always hard when a teacher your child knows and trusts leaves an early learning centre. You can help your child work through this process by talking to the teaching team about how they intend to manage the changes so that you can also discuss these with your child or be reassured that a loving teacher will still be available to care for and support your child. Ask the team about other teachers with whom your child may have a good relationship so that you can also begin to foster this relationship.

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