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We Can’t Go Over It, We Can’t Go Under It…

As the new school year draws closer, I find myself thinking about how much change most children are set to deal with.
As humans, I think we seldom give ourselves credit for how difficult any kind of change can be to adapt to. Certainly when we understand more about the ‘Change-Ready Brain’, it starts to make a lot of sense.

The transition from primary to secondary school is one of the most significant in life I think, and I personally remember it well.
It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated the gravity of that change.

Like most children, I was squealy excited about ‘big school’ but, once the novelty had worn off, it was not what I had hoped for, at all.
It was too demanding, other kids and teachers could be horrible, and suddenly long standing friends were anything but.
The tribal pack mentality I just hadn’t known at primary school horrified me.

So, inspired by Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ (i.e. you can’t go under it, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, we’ve got to go though it) today’s blog follows last week’s, about the ‘Kubler-Ross Change Curve’.

Adapted from its predecessor, the ‘5 Stages of Grief’ model, the framework identifies 7 stages of change, and provides a really coherent way to make sense of- and learn patience to-help anyone actually – not just children – take the journey through any kind of significant change;

Even anticipated change may have an element of shock; for example, if the reality doesn’t match what our imagination was expecting.

Do; Acknowledge that the child may feel helpless and powerless in the face of change. In may in fact be terrifying, even if the gravity of that change doesn’t seem huge.
Validate how they feel, reassure it’s ok to feel that way, and let them know you’re there if they need you.

Don’t; Try to compensate with ‘thinking positive’ etc. Now is not the time.

Denial is actually very useful and necessary, and in fact, is usually part of facing the truth.

Recognise that, if and when the truth is too harsh; the change too sudden or frightening to comprehend; denial can be a way for the subconscious to start adjusting first.

Don’t; Feel you need to rush a person into ‘facing facts’ or ‘moving on’ etc. While there may be an element of truth in ‘you have the face the facts’, and I’m not saying you should go along with the denial, I am saying that denial can be a way of processing pain, of making it more palatable.

Frustration isn’t a very comfortable emotion, but there are benefits to it, and even to anger.

Do; Recognise that, while you may be uncomfortable with a child’s distress, those feelings are a necessary part of the journey. Help them to understand that big feelings their mind’s way of adjusting to change, and that’s not only normal, but a natural process.

Don’t; Tell the young person-albeit supportively and the best of intentions-to not feel that way they do.
Uncomfortable as they are, emotions are still useful information transmitters.
While you might need to manage behaviour that results from a child’s frustration or anger, we don’t want them to develop an unhealthy relationship with the feeling itself.

How the ‘Depression’ phase shows up in ways that don’t look like classic depression. It may look more like a lack of motivation than anything else.

Do; Help a child or young person in this stage realise that, even though they may feel stuck, low mood is a normal part of the change process. Other than that, support may be all you can offer.  
Don’t; Default to ‘cheer up’, ‘just get on with it’ etc. Recognise, just as with the Denial or Frustration stages, while a child’s difficulty or pain may be difficult for us to bear, it’s not up to the child to have the feelings that make us feel better.

What looks like ‘Experimentation’ will vary enormously depending on the individual and their circumstances, but even the smallest exploration of the situation can be a sign of a positive step.

Do; Reflect your observations of the child’s ‘Experimentation’ back to the them. It helps to build their awareness of how they’re adjusting, and thus feel more positive about their ability to adapt.

Don’t; Overload the child with praise as they do experiment, tempting as it may be.
Too much praise may subliminally set up the expectation that the child has to maintain momentum when, in truth, the ‘Change Curve’ is often not that straightforward a journey.
This stage may see a child starting to make new decisions aligned with life as it is, and not how they may wish it to be.

Do; Recognise that, while the child may be making more noticeable progress, they may still really need to set the pace of their adjustment.
Instead of making a big celebration of that, affirmatively guide them towards a ‘look how far you’ve come’ mindset.

Don’t; Expect a child to not take a step backwards or sideways now and again… Just be assured that the tide has started to turn.

Although the final ‘stage’, it would be inaccurate to describe ‘Integration’ as final, because, as we all know, the extent to which we feel capable of handling change can ebb and flow. Overall though, a more optimistic outlook prevails.

Do; Help the child recognise how their acceptance; their knowledge that the change is irreversible; has become embedded in their minds.
Ensure they know how well they’ve done to come this far, even if this is a change they’ll never embrace.

Don’t; Expect that all difficult days are behind the child; some days will still be harder than others.
Especially if the nature of the change you’re supporting them with is painful or somehow unresolved; such as a grief or loss; you may also need to accept that, while they’ve integrated the change, they’ll always carry a sadness or grief within them.
So, you too may need to ‘integrate’, to make a kind of peace with that…

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