We all know that change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s welcomed — but often, it’s unexpected and disorienting. Whether we can prepare for it or not, we all respond differently to times of transition.
My kids are now 13, 10 and 8, and in their short lives so far, they’ve lived in six different rental homes on two different continents. They’ve gone from homeschooling to Christian school and back again. Their dad has held five different jobs with five very different work schedules. Many of their closest friends have moved away or relocated to the mission field.
Needless to say, they are not strangers to change. Overall, I like to think they’re quite flexible and adaptable in the midst of transition — but once in a while, the burden of change takes its toll.
Here are 7 tips I’ve learned about how to help children cope in times of change and transition:
1) Introduce your children to the God who never changes
Before change even knocks on the front door, it’s helpful to ground our children in the truths of God’s Word. People will disappoint us. Life is unpredictable. But God’s character and His promises will never fail us. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” What a comfort this is, not only to us as adults, but also for our children. When the storms of change swirl around us, Jesus Christ remains the same.
We can also comfort our kids with the promise of God’s presence, no matter the circumstances. When key figures in the Bible have expressed fear over a certain change in their lives, God frequently responds to their anxiety by promising His presence. He doesn’t promise to take the change away, but He does promise to be with His people in every season and hour.
Helping our children memorize Joshua 1:9 is one way to help them hide this truth in their hearts. You never know when God might use it to comfort them: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
2) Use nature to teach about God’s faithfulness
Not all change is bad. Some changes can actually be quite therapeutic.
Think about that first glimpse of green grass after a long, snow-covered winter. Think about the pink sunrise after a lonely night. These repetitive acts in God’s creation are a sign of His faithfulness. Spring always follows winter; morning always breaks the darkness of night.
Help your children to see that even in change, God is present. Talk about the consistency of the seasons and the consistency of the sun — how with each change, God is faithful and constant and brings His purposes to pass.
Psalm 136:7-9 speaks of how creation points to God’s faithfulness. The same God who made the “sun to govern the day … and the moon and stars to govern the night” is the One whose “love endures forever.” All we have to do is look at the sun, moon and stars to be reminded that God’s love for His people never changes.
3) Encourage open communication
Provide a healthy, warm atmosphere in which your children can talk about their fears and other emotions. Be open about your own feelings and struggles. When they see that you trust them with your heart, they’ll be more willing to trust you with theirs.
When they do open up and share, pause what you’re doing and make eye contact. Show them that you’re listening, and that you care. Don’t brush off their emotions as invalid or worthy of a quick dismissal.
If your children aren’t naturally chatty, ask them direct questions about how they’re processing a particular change. Open the door for them to respond.
4) Keep your routines
When we moved from Africa to the United States, I decided to keep homeschooling, partly for the sake of "sameness." In a new and foreign place, I could still maintain a semblance of "normal" for my kids. Even though everything about their environment was different, they were used to homeschooling and it was comfortable to them. It was one less transition to which they had to adapt.
Try to keep your routines as consistent as possible. Maybe you've moved to a new town, but you can still have family dinners together like you did in your old house, or still have Family Game Night every Friday, or pancakes every Saturday morning. Point out these consistencies to your children to make them feel more secure.
5) Count your blessings
Count the blessings you've seen as a result of the changes. Focus on the perks and benefits more than the "what ifs" and the things that are missed from how your life used to be.
In her book, Girl Meets Change, Kristen Strong writes, “When we spend all our energy wishing things were different, we have no strength to revel in the glory of the blessings right in front of us.” Isn’t that the truth?
6) Plan ahead
Often, change comes unexpectedly — but on the occasions when we are able to foresee its arrival, it’s helpful to plan ahead and do all that we can to make the shift as smooth as possible.
When my daughter was about to transition into a Christian school after five years of homeschooling, I made arrangements for her to have a playdate during the summer with one of the girls who would be in her new class. Looking back, my daughter said this was really helpful. When she entered the school building for the first time, at least she knew one familiar face amongst the sea of strangers.
Do what you can to anticipate the bumps in the road. Maybe there’s some prep work you could do in advance to make things easier for your kids when the change arrives.
Perhaps the most important of all these suggestions is to pray. Pray for your children and with your children. Pray before the change, during the change and after the change. Then as you see those prayers answered and as God helps your children and guides them through a particular change, go back and thank Him for the answered prayer.
Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.