Change is a natural part of life, but for many children, especially those with diagnoses such as ADHD and autism, change can be disruptive and upsetting. While avoiding change can be beneficial in some cases, it is far more beneficial in the long-term to help prepare children for inevitable transitions they may encounter and equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to cope with change effectively.
In life, there are many kinds of changes children need to deal with, ranging from small shifts like playing to cleaning up, to larger shifts such as relocating. Here are some strategies parents can use to help children better understand and cope with change.
Routine can be beneficial for all children as it helps them develop organization and time management skills. In addition, routines can also help children understand transitions from one activity to another because they will know what to expect and get comfort from the predictability.
Similarly, routines can help solidify regular family discussions that leave room for larger topics such as new jobs, new schools, or other changes that could be disruptive to a child.
When it comes to making daily or weekly routines, having the child participate in the structuring of their activities can make them more receptive to the idea. At the same time, it also helps give them a lasting sense of influence and autonomy as later changes in their lives occur.
Provide Ample Warnings Before Transition Occurs
Even after establishing a routine, a good tool for helping ease children through transitions is to provide advanced warning, such as telling them that they have a certain amount of time to finish what they’re doing and prepare to move onto the next task or activity. For more significant transitions like relocation, providing reminders to a child in increments of months, weeks, and days can help them not only reconcile with the transition long before it impacts them directly, but it will also allow them to more appropriately and efficiently prepare for the shift.
Implement a System of Rewards and Consequences
Reinforcing the importance of sticking to a routine and embracing change as it arrives, even when uncomfortable, can help prepare children for future transitions in life from changing schools, attending college, or finding work. From offering verbal praise to children who adjust to change well to providing tangible rewards such as snacks, stickers, or opportunities to earn larger treats such as books or local trips, there are plenty of ways to reward children who are regularly embracing change and transition.
For children who are still struggling, some consequences may be in order. It is important to remember that parents and guardians understand that many children struggle to adjust to transitions for reasons beyond their control, so patience and empathy are key. If a child is clearly making an effort to abide by their routine and embrace transitions, adults should not focus on any setbacks or errors. Children who deliberately go against the routine or refuse to embrace transition as a normal part of life may require additional guidance or appropriate consequences depending on the nature of their actions.
Throughout their lives, children will experience varying levels of change and transition. While some of these changes will be positive, others will certainly be difficult for them to embrace. Actively working to prepare children for dealing with transitions, no matter how small, can help equip them with the necessary mindset and tools to accept change in the future.