Helping Kids Navigate Difficult Change

Change is hard for kids. It was heart wrenching to see T process an unexpected change this week.

Change is harder for kids such as T.

If you hang out with the hubby and I, you’ll notice we give T ample warnings – 10, 5, 1 minutes before we move to the next activity, especially if T is currently doing a preferred activity.

It may seem excessive but sudden transitions often don’t go well with T, so we are proactive at using transitions to mitigate tantrums.

A few years ago, we learned about social stories and how these visual tools can help kids who struggle with social change.

In T’s case, his Montessori support created a social story to prepare him to move to a new classroom and teacher.

We read it several times the week before the change. He loved it so much it became a bedtime story staple for months after!

More recently, the pandemic brought a doozy of changes – lockdowns, virtual schooling, mask wearing, distancing – at an unrelenting pace. For adults, much less a child, it was overwhelming.

Big Unexpected Change

After recently receiving T’s FASD diagnosis, as much as we expected it, I didn’t want any more big life changes for a while.

Two weeks ago, T’s wonderful Child and Youth Worker, who has worked with T the last year and a half, let us know she got a new job and would leave very soon.

We were very happy for her moving to a dream role, but it still sucked because this was a huge loss for T. She was so good at her job and T and our family loved working with her.

My mind shifted into change management and how to set up the best transition for T.

Even though I knew it was a long shot, I asked if she could start her new role after Spring Break in four weeks. The break may give T a mental space between her and the new CYW.

Nice try but no cigar.

I asked if there could be a transition where both her and the new CYW worked together with T.

Thankfully, with the principal’s support, a new CYW was brought on to allow a full week transition with both CYWs this week.

The hubby, CYW and I discussed how we would break the news to T. We‘d tell T this past weekend and then she‘d tell him on Monday.

We kept the message simple: she’s leaving because she got a new job; T didn’t do anything wrong; she loves him; we will keep in touch.

We gave staff at T’s after school daycare a heads up, so they can be aware of and keep an eye out for potential behaviour symptoms.

While we were still sad with this change, it felt good to have a change plan in place.

When Best Laid Plans Don’t Go As Planned

The hubby and I broke the news to T on Sunday night after a fun afternoon of sledding.

He seemed to take the news ok and was glad to hear he would still see her this week.

Then the bomb dropped on Tuesday afternoon. His CYW let us know that it was her last day instead of the end of the week. It was a decision that was out of her and the principal’s hands.

Poor T was caught off guard like a deer in the headlights. He repeatedly told her, “But you said you had two more days.”

He cried during the bus ride from school to daycare. The empathetic staff let us know that he ran out into the hallway and around the school and was not himself.

Tuesday night was challenging. He was moody and emotional. During bedtime, he repeatedly talked about how sad he felt.

As a parent, I think it is important to let kids have the space and time to feel the fullness of their emotions.

But it still breaks my heart to see him sad. Processing big emotions with so little life experience as context is hard.

As I learned with change theory, there are four stages of acceptance – denial, anger, acceptance and commitment.

I see T experiencing the denial and anger stages right now.

Always Look Forward

The hubby and I are focused on guiding T forward, even though we feel the loss too.

The first day without his former CYW was expectedly up and down. His new CYW let us know he told her many times he felt sad.

On the bright side, we are thankful the new CYW is continuing to use the effective strategies that are already in place.

It also sounds like she has the savy and skills to recognize T’s boundary testing behaviour and to respond appropriately.

So despite the sudden and rocky change, there are many positives to focus on as we all help T move through this significant change.

Thankfully, we have a long weekend ahead and we are focused on relaxation.

Fingers crossed, we plan to have a curbside meetup with his CYW so T can have a calmer proper goodbye and both of them can have better closure, as I empathize this sudden change was difficult for her too.

Spring Break is around the corner and the three of us are using that as motivation to get through these next few weeks.

After all, if there is one constant thing in life, it’s change.

28 thoughts on “Helping Kids Navigate Difficult Change

  1. Ab, I’m so sorry T had to experience the transition in this way. It is such a good sign that he is able to identify and share his feelings. He sounds like a very resilient boy who has lots of love and support. My care to each of you as your continue to navigate this transition. ❤❤

    1. Thank you, LaDonna. It was a rough few days but things seem to be fairly calm again. We miss the CYW but his new CYW has been really good so far. 🙏🤞🏻

  2. Change is the one certainty in life, you’re too right. Still, it isn’t easy. I feel for T having to go through that. He’s lucky to have such great parents to help him get through it. I’m sure it will be looked back on as an important period of growth. Wishing you and yours well Ab. 🙏

    1. Thank you, AP! Sometimes, I just wanna scream, “Stop it, already!” But it’s often an exercise in futility. 😆 So all we can do is keep going. Have a great rest of your weekend as well!

  3. I am so sad for T and I know it was difficult for her to leave. I went on such a guilt trip when I retired and I still keep in contact with all of my clients as I’m sure she will T too. You handled it superbly Ab!

    1. Thanks Diane! I definitely can see how it’s also hard for the practitioner, such as yourself, cuz you form such deep meaningful relationships.

      We did have a proper closure with his CYW on Friday afternoon when we did a private curbside meet up. It was a great way to end the week and things seem to be back to better again! 🙏🤞🏻

  4. Change is hard and it’s always tough to see someone you love feeling sad. Sorry to hear that T’s CYW left and earlier than expected too. I love that you are focusing on the positives though. All we can do is hope and keep putting out good vibes. And yes, good thing we have the Family Day long weekend and March Break ahead of us!!

    1. Thanks Linda. It was a bumpy week but ended off on a good note. And now it’s the long weekend. And counting down till March Break. 20 days to go! 😆

      1. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to, especially time away from work! After March Break we’ll have Easter, then the Victoria Day long weekend, and then it’ll be summer!!

  5. Breaks my heart for T when you wrote, “He repeatedly told her, “But you said you had two more days.” It is a very sad , emotional experience. Glad to know however he is doing well with his new CYW. Having an understanding, caring and flexible CYW makes a big difference in adjustment and over coming the separation. I hope Spring Break comes quick your way. It is a great time for family adventures, bonding and just rejuvenation. Have a great weekend Ab. Regards to your Family.

    1. Thank you. It was an emotionally challenging week but it ended up on a good note. Things seem to be back to normal. Kids always remind us that they can be quite resilient. And all we can do is look forward.

      We have a sunny and beautiful long weekend over here so yes to rejuvenation. Have a great one as well!

  6. Oh my goodness, when I read the part about the CYW’s sudden last day on Tuesday, it felt like a gut punch. I can’t even imagine how hard that was for you all. I’m so sorry. But once again, I’m so inspired and impressed by you and your hubby’s ability to steady T’s boat even as it navigates choppy water.

    I love your writing and how you tied this back to change management and you’ve really made me think about change stories. That is something that I could do much better with my kids.

    May this weekend be calming and healing for you all! Sending my best!

    1. Thank you, Wynne. It has been a challenging week of change but things seem to be calmer now. Gut punch is a great phrase because that is exactly how it felt for all of us. But we know it was out of any of our hands, including the schools.

      It’s an extra long weekend for T, no school today and a holiday on Monday. So the timing is perfect for a recharge.

      Take care and have a great weekend too! 😊🙏

      1. That’s great that you get a recharge. And I love how generously you look at life. Sending my best wishes for a fantastic long weekend!

    1. Thank you. It was very hard for sure but the new one seems very promising. We have faith it will be ok in the long run. 😊🙏

  7. I’ve learned so much from you sharing. I was chatting with a stranger recently after observing a child with autism having a melt down in the mall. After he asked my daughter how did she know what to do to calm the child & he assumed I/we had first hand experience. I explained that no I don’t directly but I have several friends who are parents of autistic children. My point to him was I never know when I may bein a situation where I can be of help like my daughter was. It was clear the mother was exhausted & this was a first for her. So I take interest and am always motivated when you share.
    Thanks for including the link for “social stories” as well. I couldn’t remember why that sounded so familiar.

    1. Thank you, Tammy. 😊 We are one big community and we all learn so much from each other – as I have from reading the stories of other parents and their experiences.

      It is also gratifying and affirming to hear from wonderful allies such as yourself who take the time and care to empathize and to learn. Your empathy no doubt made a difference to that exhausted mother that day!

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