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7 ways to help your preschool child cope with change

Written by journalist and author, Liat Hughes Joshi.

Preschool children can find change especially difficult – they’re too little to understand what’s going on and to have any control over the bigger aspects of the situation. They might well not even be able to articulate their feelings. Whether it’s a family circumstances such as the arrival or a new sibling, moving house or school, here are some ways to help them cope.

  1. When you know change is coming, get your little one used to the idea a short while in advance by talking about what’s going to happen and building familiarity with their new circumstances (not weeks before – as that won’t be meaningful to a child this age – the exception being pregnancy where they will notice your bump obviously!). So, if they’re moving home or nursery/ preschool, take them to see the new place, and point out some of the features of it they might like “look at the lovely garden where you can play”! If that’s not possible, show them photos and videos online if available.
  2. Let them have some basic involvement in whatever is going on in relevant, age appropriate ways – so if you’ll be moving house, can they choose something (minor and inexpensive) for their room? Changing nursery or school – a new bag?

  3. Keep to their usual routines as much as possible through the change – this stability will help them feel secure but also sticking to regular eating and sleep times will ensure they’re not going to get grouchy through hunger or tiredness.

  4. Give them a little leeway if they ‘play up’ behaviour wise – they might be upset by whatever is going on – but don’t abandon all rules too much or for too long. Again, those firm boundaries help your child feel secure. And definitely draw the line at any hitting out/ biting at you or others too – it’s fine to be upset or angry at some bad event but it’s never okay to take it out on other people physically.

  5. Don’t make assumptions about how your child feels about the change – instead observe how they’re reacting and if they’re a little older listen to what they say about it – it might be quite different to how you would have reacted at their age, their sibling or any other child might. They might not be as bothered about some things as you’d expect, but equally, they might be upset or scared about something that hasn’t even crossed your mind. 

  6. Offer extra cuddles and a little more attention. Most of the changes a toddler has to deal with will likely also be affecting you, from a family bereavement to moving home. In such circumstances, with a lot going on, it can be tricky to spend time with your child but whenever you can make sure you find part of the day to give them your undivided attention, to cuddle and chat and help them feel like you’re there for them. 

  7. Look after you too – when times are tough it’s tempting to focus solely on helping your child but if you’re to be in the best position to do that, you need to take care of yourself too. Don’t feel guilty about this; whether it’s getting someone to look after your little one so you can offload on a friend or family member, or go for a walk to contemplate what’s going on.

About the author:

Liat Hughes Joshi is a journalist and author who specialises in writing about parenting and family life. She is the author of six parenting books and has contributed to many publications including The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Her most recent book Help Your Child Cope With Change is published by Vie, £10.99