contributed by Tracy M. Gale, PsyD, HSPP and
Emmaleigh Badeaux, MA, LMHCa, Easterseals Crossroads
As adults, we can often anticipate and accommodate changes to our routine. Unexpected changes may lead to feelings of discomfort and agitation. Ideally, we control the expression of those feelings, but our children may not. Children are still developing the executive functioning skills necessary to sequence events, as well as plan and inhibit emotional responses, which can make their reactions to change unpleasant. Here are some strategies to encourage flexible thinking in your child:
- When possible, change your routine in small, pleasant ways, such as stopping at the park or making a favorite dinner. This allows children opportunities to practice adapting to change in a positive way.
- Prepare your child for discomfort. Changes are not always pleasant, and children need strategies for dealing with discomfort. Your child may benefit from taking deep breaths, tensing and releasing muscles, or focusing on something fun happening later that day.
- Remind your child of the sequence of events by using “First, Then” language. Try saying, “First we will stop at the grocery store, then we will play at home.” This reminds the child that the unexpected occurrence is temporary and that better things will follow.
- Prepare your child for changes to routine. Tell your child about the change and what your expectations are for behavior. Be sure to explicitly state your expectations. For example, “We have to pick up your sister at gymnastics. I know you were planning to stay at home, but we need to go together. You can hold my hand and walk into the gym with me, stand quietly while we get her, and then we can play when we get home.”
- Praise your child when he/she shows flexibility with changes. Acknowledge the difficulty faced and the demonstrated success at managing a challenging situation.
Change can be difficult, but with practice and support, children can learn valuable life skills about being more flexible and managing unexpected changes in their lives.