Help Your Kids Cope With Family Change

Know What Your Kids Need From You While They're Coping With Family Change

Boy hugging his mom.
Photo © Tetra Images/Getty Images

For kids, any kind of family change is disruptive. Whether they're dealing with your divorce, a significant loss, or even a family move or remarriage, kids going through transition need a lot of love and support. The tricky thing, though, is that they won't always show it. They may look cool and calm on the outside, or they may be falling apart. Either way, here's how you can help your kids cope with family change:

5 Things Your Kids Need When They're Coping With Family Change

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"I Need to Be Included."

Boy hugging his mom.
Photo © Tetra Images/Getty Images

Even positive changes are stressful for kids, particularly when they can't see ahead to any of the positives that can come with a new beginning. Instead, change can feel unsettling to kids, and it can cause them to be fearful about what lies ahead. As your child's parent, you can help mediate some of these feelings by answering their questions and providing as much concrete information as possible about the transition. Make a point of including your kids on small decisions, such as which day of the week works best for weeknight visits, or which bedrooms they want in the event of a move. Giving them a say in the small things will help your kids to feel empowered as they cope with family change. And remember that more than anything, your kids just need time with you! So include them as much as you can.

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"I Need to Be Heard."

Allow your kids to express their feelings about the family changes you're introducing, even when that means expressing negative thoughts and opinions. Give them the message that you're open to hearing all of it, and train yourself to stay calm even when it's hard to hear what they have to say.

In addition, try not to talk your kids out of feeling what they feel. Let them feel it. Acknowledging their feelings can be the first step toward helping your kids cope with family change and and eventually putting some of those negative feelings behind them. Also, don't tell your kids how you think they 'should' feel during this time. Leave the 'shoulds' out of it! If you want your kids to be grateful for what they have, model that attitude by voicing what you're thankful for. Consider starting a family gratitude journal where you can record the positives together as you experience them during this time of family change.

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"I Need the Support of Family & Friends."

Make every effort to allow your kids to spend time with family and friends who love them unconditionally and will support them through the changes they're experiencing. Rely on grandparents, aunts, and uncles (and close family friends) to reiterate the message that your kids are wholly loved and that these extended relationships will remain rock solid throughout this time of family change.

If you have young kids and you're going through a divorce or separation, consider telling your kids' teachers directly and sharing the news in confidence with the parents of your children's closest friends. However, if your kids are older, you'll want to let them tell their friends on their own, when they feel ready to talk about it.

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"I Need Opportunities to Express Myself."

Allow your kids plenty of opportunities to express themselves and process their emotions. And remember, the process may be different for each of your children. For some, listening to music is helpful. For others, shooting hoops, painting, or journaling will be key. Since your children may not 'feel like it' while they're in the throes of family change and transition, you may need to work extra hard to encourage them to return to the activities that are most soothing to them. You can model this, too, by getting back into your own routines as soon as you are able.

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"I Need to Be Able to Say 'No.'"

Finally, remember that your kids need to have some say in their lives. Particularly when they're coping with family change and feeling overwhelmed, you may see this come out in surprising ways. For example, they may suddenly express their needs in ways that seem rude or uncooperative. Before you overreact, remember that the behavior you're seeing is coming from your child's need — not because the family change you're going through has utterly changed their core personalities. Take the time to acknowledge that a lot of things feel out of control at this time, and empower your child to say "no" to some things occasionally. When that's not possible, acknowledge his feelings and let him know that you will make an effort to give him a say in other situations when you can.