Coaching Kids to Deal with Change

24 02 2013

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Have you or your children gone through a significant change in your lives?  How was it handled?

I believe even in their short life spans, my children have already learned that change is constant.  Having switched schools twice in the last 3 years, we have had quite a few conversations about how the affects of the transitions have impacted them.  We were very open about the decisions to move and the reasons behind them and made the girls a part of the process.  We knew that there would be a sense of loss regarding friendships, teachers and the overall familiarity of the environment they had come to know so well.  In retrospect, I believe that because both girls have had previous experience with loss they also had an increased ability to cope with the recent moves to their new schools.

I’ll never forget the time we came back from a weekend trip to find that one of the girls’ guineas pigs had died.  My daughter was devastated and inconsolable.  It broke our hearts to witness her pain and not be able to protect her from it.  Following that came the time when my older daughter learned from her teacher that Santa Claus was a myth.  This was another huge blow and lesson in trust, loss and she learned that things are not always what they seem.  She was livid and broke the news to my husband on their way home from school in the presence of her younger sister.  We were all shocked.  Then, only months after this life altering news, the girls experienced the death of their grandfather.  They had managed to visit him during his short hospital stay and knew he had become extremely ill in a very short span of time.  They were present the morning I got the call from my brother and knew what had happened.  They attended the wake and funeral and dealt with their loss as we dealt with ours.  We talked about it and cried together – again there was no hiding from the pain and reality of another significant loss and another change to their lives.

In those instances there was little that we did to prepare oursleves or the girls for the changes they experienced, since we as parents did not / could not anticipate what was about to happen.  We did speak very openly about our feelings and theirs and encouraged them to express whatever they felt; sadness, and disappointment, even rage.  There were accusations and we did our best to stay calm, always leaving space to allow the feelings to be owned so that they could also be processed and allow space for new feelings to emerge.

Looking back I know that these harsh life lessons have been the true teachers for the girls to deal with more change that they will inevitably encounter as the future unfolds.  They are learning that they are different in every breath, and every moment is a new experience; an invitation to live fully.  The past is unchangeable since, as my daughter put it “there’s no magic clock that can make us redo something that we already did”. 

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So can organizational change management theory apply to real life change situations?  Here are some common steps to facilitating change that I’ve adapted from the 9 to 5 version some organizational leaders use with their employees. The basic fundamentals are straightforward and transferrable:

  1.  Break change down into small steps. The big picture may seem overwhelming.  Be sensitive to where your kids are at and break things down into smaller pieces that they can grasp more easily.
  2. Provide guidance and training. There will be doubt and uncertainty.  Your ability to acknowledge and address the discomfort will have a direct impact on how the change is adopted.
  3. Allow time for practice. There’s always an adjustment period for any change and comfort comes with time and patience.
  4.  Learn with your kids.  Be honest about your own challenges with the new situation.  Getting to common ground regarding the change can help diffuse the tension.  If one child is having an easier time than another, ask for their help to share how they’ve managed to deal with things.
  5. Encourage and reward progress. Don’t wait until it’s too late, acknowledge progress as it happens.  A good day can simply look like more smiles than tears – it’s a start!
  6. Sympathetically deal with frustration.  The better your self control, the lower your stress and greater your ability to deal with your children’s angst.
  7. Maintain confidence in your kids’ success. You are their cheerleader and their champion.  Let them know you are routing for them and believe in their success.
  8. Help get them started.  Set them up for success however you can by stacking all odds in their favour.  (i.e. if there is change in one area focus on increasing stability in another.) You will all benefit and grow from the experience.

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Although change and loss are symbiotic, it’s the loss of the familiar and fear of the unknown that create the most anxiety.  The girls know this and as a coach I can remind them that they have lost, and continued to thrive in a new reality.   And, no matter how frightening change may seem, we need it in order to evolve.

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