- illness in the family,
- geographic relocations,
- deaths (of people or even of pets),
- birth order of the children,
- socio-economic level,
- and even vacations.
All of these can be potential stressors in children’s lives, thus affecting their actions and behaviors. For example, a child might react very strongly to the beginning of a new school year and may appear extra clingy and whiny.
At times, the reasons behind some of the behaviors your children exhibit may not always be obvious, and there may be a situational factor that is influencing their reaction. For example, a child may become extremely upset over not being able to purchase a toy that he had played with at a friend’s house. His strong reaction, however, is not because of the toy, but rather a build-up of stress due to the birth of a new sibling.
Transitions are a situational factor that affect children’s behaviors. Some children will adjust easily and quickly and some will need more time, depending on their temperament. The changes can be large such as the moving across the country or a serious illness in the family. Often in such situations, we expect children to need time to adjust to the new routines, to be anxious during the transition, and to voice their concerns. These emotions can be demonstrated either directly through their words, or indirectly through their behaviors, such as having difficulties with sleeping, being irritable, or generally being belligerent and negative.
Surprisingly, sometimes even small adjustments can be challenging for some children, such as varying a routine, having a visitor in the home, or having a substitute teacher in school. Their reactions can feel out of proportion to the degree of adjustment required, and, therefore, catch us off guard. Parents sometimes discount the impact of such “small” changes on their children and tend not to consider them when trying to understand their children’s behavior.
How to help children cope
- Forewarn them of changes before they occur.
- Give your children opportunities to talk. Sometimes just having someone listen to and acknowledge their fears and concerns can alleviate their burden.
- When possible, act out/practice the new routines. With older children, you can discuss what changes to expect and how they may feel about them.
- Teach your children how to identify their feelings and give them words to express themselves.
- Share strategies that you use to help yourself cope with the “unknown” aspects of life.
Why is knowing this important?
As parents, it helps to be aware of potential situational factors that could directly or indirectly affect/upset your children’s behavior and possibly cause disruptions within your family. Then, rather than just dealing with the superficial reaction of their behavior, you can address the root cause of the upset and help your children to deal with it.
It can be comforting for your children to become aware of the reasons they are upset or “out-of-sorts.” This acknowledgement can help them to understand themselves better and it can build a deeper relationship between you and your children.
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