Helping Children Deal with Change

Written by Jeanie Davis Pullen

family_childchangeI wanted each of the girls to be comfortable with change, to learn to take change in stride.

I knew that Lara and Julie’s independent lives would have many examples of change, some predictable, like seasonal or developmental, and some that seemed to come without warning. I wanted each of them to be somewhat comfortable with change, to take change in stride, to keep their bearings.

Lara reacted fairly well to change, but I noticed that Julie wasn’t so comfortable. She was not balky or devastated, but some change saddened her. Her unease showed when change came quickly and she was expected to adapt. I felt that Michael and I could do her a good service by helping her experience change in a painless way.

Julie was very careful with her environment and liked things to be where she had placed them. Her environment was familiar to her and she liked that. It was something she could depend upon. I decided to use the living room arrangement to help Julie with feelings about a basic change.

One day, while Julie was in upper elementary school, I changed the living room around. Before I moved nearly every piece of furniture, I sketched the way the room looked before Julie left for school that morning. I wanted to respect what I knew about Julie’s uneasiness about change. I wanted to give us a return path if we needed it. By the time Lara and Julie arrived home from school, the drastic change was made.

Julie was horrified when she saw what had happened. The look on her face said that she had turned her back and look what happened to something she counted on as stable. She cried as she said she didn’t like it. I quickly showed her the drawing, and told her I was tired and wondered if we could leave the room the new way for a day or two. If she still didn’t like it, we had the drawing, and could go back to exactly the way it was before. We examined the drawing together and she could see that nothing was left out. Julie agreed. Three days later, I asked her if we should change back. She said no, she liked it the new way. Her response was treated with dignity and thoughtfulness.

Simple as this approach seems, it gave Julie a way to cope. I would never have disturbed her room, but I could topsy-turvy the family’s living room. Several times in her adult life, Julie has commented on that episode. She thinks it helped her adjust to change by letting her see she had a degree of control over the situation. Julie also tells me that she remembers several times after the living room episode when she toyed with changing her bedroom around. She remembers that I eagerly helped her regardless of how many times we had to squire the furniture around in one day. I don’t remember the moves, but Julie tells me that she remembers being intrigued that I never lost my patience as I helped her move the same piece of furniture around until it was “just right.” Indeed, yes. I imagine I was so very delighted that a change was being addressed willingly that I stuck with the process as long, and as often, as Julie was willing.

Since junior high school, both girls have traveled internationally without the family. Each trip, of course, brought quick opportunities to adapt to change as they figured out how to get from one place to another, kept up with their money and passports, kept themselves safe, and had a wonderful time. And, of course, in nearly every part of their lives, change has appeared and been absorbed. In most every change, positive elements were soon apparent to each of the girls.

Julie continues to handle change well. Some change can be sobering and scary, but I’ve noticed that change doesn’t immobilize either of the girls. It’s an important attribute, I think.

This article is excerpted from the book Life Teachings: Raising a Child, by Jeanie Davis Pullen.

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