Everyone has experienced a change one way or another in 2020. PAM LINKE shares her perspective on change for children, the impact of the unknown and what we can do as adults to support their feelings. Pam is also the author of an ECA publication, Managing change: Everyday learning about babies, toddlers and preschoolers—a helpful resource that delves into how the experiences of our early years can depend on how we approach and cope with change as we get older.
Throughout our lives from birth to death we all experience changes. First entry into the world must be overwhelming to a newborn, losing their comfortable nest, sudden light, strange noises—all with no preparation. Even a nappy change can be a big, bewildering thing with someone suddenly lifting and pulling and pushing and doing things that the baby can’t see.
We now know a lot about how best to help children manage change. We know that they cope better if they are prepared with words. Even when infants are too young to understand the words, repetition brings familiarity and comfort, so we say something like ‘Up, up, up’ and the baby learns to be prepared for being picked up. We know that telling young children too long in advance of changes can bring unnecessary anxiety as they worry about the unknown.
What may seem like small changes to us can be very big for children. Therefore we know to listen to, and respect their fears, while also reassuring them where we can.
We know that having a comfort person, most likely a parent or sometimes another adult, can help children weather changes. In the bushfires in South Australia, when children talked about their fears later, one of the greatest fears was not knowing where their parents were.
We know that even as adults the changes during events that we cannot control are the most frightening and so we give children some areas of change that they can control, when possible, such as what they take with them, who is with them, how they do things.
The coronavirus can teach adults a great deal about helping the children in their care manage change. The virus at present is a change we can’t control, a change that was unexpected and unprepared for, that can bring big losses and that we are only slowly beginning to understand.
As we face these new events we are learning about how frightening and sometimes overwhelming these changes are for us. Changes that seem small to us can be just as frightening to young children who don’t have the knowledge and experience to support them that older children and adults have. With our knowledge of the world we can reassure them that a parent leaving, or a new baby arriving will be okay, (just as we are reassured that we will come through this pandemic okay) but children also need us to understand how it feels for them.
The other side of this crisis is that we are also learning about the things that help us to cope. We are learning what we need to feel that we can cope and discovering new ways to get what we need to see us through. We can use this understanding in our work.
As we help children through changes in their lives, we can ensure that they have comfort from people close to them when facing unknown danger, we can listen to and respect their fears, we can help them to make meaning of what is happening and try to enable them to be or feel in control of some aspects of the situation. With our help and support they can learn lessons that will stay with them—lessons about looking for positive aspects to the change, about how to get resources they need, and about their own strengths in meeting challenges.
Pam Linke is releasing an update to the publication in the coming months and will be included on the ECA Shop.