The phone rang, it was the front desk person at our son’s therapist. She was calling to let us know that his particular therapist was going to be gone on medical leave and that we would need to put him with a different therapist for those weeks. My gut thought was, are you kidding me? Do you know the weeping and gnashing of teeth that we experienced until he was matched with the right therapist? How long is she going to be gone and can we just skip until she comes back? Ah changes, just when you think something is going good, something has to change and throw a wrench in the system.
How many unexpected changes did you experience this week as you were caring for your child? Did you have a change in therapist? A change in appointment times? A change in placement plans? Maybe it is an event that you have been preparing your child for for an extended period of time, only to have it fall through at the last moment.
It is nice when we can prepare our children for an upcoming change but many changes are unplanned. For many of our children, when they experience an unexpected change it is like they just had the carpet ripped out from under them. Their world is turned upside down. It leaves them spinning and us at a loss for how to guide them through it.
Here are some practical steps you can take when you find yourself helping your child work through an unexpected change:
• When possible, allow extra time to adjust to the change. If you are able to, remove yourself to a calm, quiet environment to eliminate extra stressors. For example, if you are at a therapist office, do they have a private room you can go to as you help your child process the change?
• Depending on the type of change, distraction can help. Is there a favorite song, story or toy. Point out something about the new situation that they would typically like. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of negative thinking and this can help with that.
• Try to redirect your child to a calming activity or encourage the use of coping skills such as deep breathing. For example, do they have a weighted blanket or special fidget that helps them handle stress?
• Reassure your child that you are there for them.
• Attempt to be a calm presence and talk in a soothing voice. Our children are not the only ones who become stressed by unexpected changes. We do as well and it is easy to let the stress impact how we relate to our children, feeding their stress further.
• Validate your child’s feelings. For example, “I know you really liked this therapist and are disappointed by…” Then redirect to other things on the schedule that they may look forward to.
• PRAY. Pray that God will give you wisdom, courage, peace and guide the situation.
• Unexpected change can strike fear in our hearts and cause those Momma and Papa Bear instincts to come out. Take a breath. You’ve got this.
We would like to hear from you. What helps your children cope with unexpected change?