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Supporting Children through Change: The 7 Most Common Childhood Transitions

A new sibling or a new school year, change is stressful for kids. With these tips, guide your child through the seven most common childhood transitions.

Fear of change is right up there with fear of spiders—so many people struggle with it. And as hard as it is for adults to adapt to change, it’s even harder for children.

But change is an inevitable part of childhood. From starting school and going through puberty to making new friends and dealing with family dynamics, children encounter so many transitions that can shape their emotional and psychological well-being. And through it all, parents and caregivers can only try their best to support and guide their children to emerge more resilient and adaptable. To make this ride easier for everyone, understanding common childhood changes is important.

Here are seven of the most common childhood transitions, along with strategies to support children through each and every one.

1. Changing Schools or Starting a New School Year

Has your child ever cried on the first day of school? If yes, change was probably the reason.

School is a huge part of a child’s life and also the source of some of the biggest transitions every year. New teachers, new classmates, new lessons, and even new schools—the academic journey can really throw kids for a loop. This can lead to feelings of insecurity, fear, and stress, which then in turn can lead to behavioral issues that seemingly came out of nowhere.

How to Help

  • Visit the school. Before the first day, tour the school together and get used to the new environment.
  • Meet teachers and classmates. Before or right after school starts, arrange introductions with teachers and potential classmates, and be sure to attend any school or classroom events.
  • Discuss expectations. Talk about the differences and similarities with their previous school, classroom, or school year.
  • Encourage participation. Get them involved in school activities or clubs to help them settle into the new environment.

2. Moving Houses

As nice as it would be to live in one place forever, family dynamics, life changes, and other unpredictable circumstances often make that impossible. Many children end up moving houses in their lifetime, which like a chain reaction, leads to many other changes. But it’s important to address each one individually, starting from the first link: a new house.

How to Help

  • Involve them in the process. Let them help in choosing their new room, their room decor, or anything that would help them personalize this unfamiliar house.
  • Explore the new neighborhood. Before you bring the first item into the house, visit local parks, shops, and community centers together.
  • Maintain routines. Because the house and environment are already so unfamiliar, it’s important to keep some old routines to provide stability.
  • Create a moving book. Save pictures of your old house and neighborhood, take some pictures of your new house, and then make a scrapbook to remember all the good memories from both places.

3. Meeting New Friends and Losing Old Friends

Making and keeping friends is an important and ongoing change for kids; it’s as much a part of their environment as school is. Because even if their environment stays exactly the same, friends might come and go, leaving kids feeling nervous, uncertain, and even lonely.

How to Help

  • Facilitate playdates. Arrange initial playdates to help them meet new friends and stay connected with old friends.
  • Encourage extracurricular activities. Get them involved in sports, arts, or clubs.
  • Teach social skills. Role-play conversations and social scenarios to make your child more prepared for and comfortable with the unexpected.
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Validate their sadness and talk about their emotions.
  • Encourage communication. Help them stay in touch with old friends through letters, calls, or video chats.
  • Discuss resilience. Talk about how people come and go but they can always make new friends.

4. Physical Growth and Puberty

When you think of change and children together, puberty is probably the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, you probably remember it as a stressful, emotionally charged time in your own life. You’d probably like to spare your child from this change. But every child goes through puberty at some point, inviting a whole slew of emotions as they physically and mentally change.

How to Help

  • Educate them. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be, children need to understand what’s happening to their bodies. As parents and caregivers, we need to provide age-appropriate information about the changes they are experiencing—from deodorant to the birds and bees, all of it is important.
  • Be supportive. Reassure them that these changes are normal and healthy and that things will get better. It might also be helpful to shop with them for new clothes, skincare products, or anything that will make them feel more like themselves in their changing body.
  • Promote healthy habits. Encourage good nutrition, exercise, and (especially) hygiene.
  • Maintain open communication. Be open to questions and discuss any concerns they have.

5. Academic Challenges

Even if nothing else has changed with the school year except their studies, these changes can provide some of the most difficult obstacles for kids. Maybe your child just started middle school and doesn’t know how to handle six different classes at once. Or maybe your child started taking AP classes for the first time. This change in academic expectations is sometimes scary and confusing for children, especially if they’re struggling with learning in the first place.

How to Help

  • Offer support. Help with homework, or seek out a tutor, and provide resources for extra learning.
  • Communicate with teachers and your child. Stay in touch with teachers to monitor progress and address issues, and touch base with your child every once in a while to make sure everything is going well.
  • Create a study routine. Establish a consistent homework and study schedule; this will help carry them through all the transitions from elementary school to middle school to high school to college.
  • Encourage a growth mindset. Praise effort, not just results, and emphasize learning from mistakes. In the end, the experience and learning will be more valuable than a letter grade.

6. Family Changes (e.g., Divorce, New Sibling)

Children grow and change, and families grow and change right along with them. Sometimes it’s a new sibling, a death in the family, a divorce—and it all affects children. These changes probably have a greater impact on well-being than school or friends because a family is the foundation of a child’s life. Everything begins and ends here.

How to Help

  • Maintain stability. Keep routines and provide a stable environment.
  • Communicate openly. Explain the changes honestly and in an age-appropriate way.
  • Give extra attention. Provide additional love and attention during transitions, but be firm about boundaries. It doesn’t help children to give in to every whim for the sake of guilt and worry.
  • Seek support. Consider counseling if the child or family are struggling significantly.

7. Health Changes (e.g., Illness or Injury)

For both children and parents, health doesn’t always last. Kids break a leg during soccer. Parents develop new illnesses. And families have to adapt to these changes. Sometimes they’re just mild inconveniences, but sometimes they largely impact the way a family lives.

How to Help

  • Educate about the condition. Explain the illness or injury in a way they can understand, and answer any questions that come up.
  • Stay positive. Encourage a positive outlook and emphasize recovery.
  • Provide comfort. Offer emotional and physical comfort, such as being present and supportive.
  • Keep a routine. Maintain normalcy as much as possible.

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Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.

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