Six strategies for coping with change when you’re young

A boy with Down syndrome with his mother and grandmother playing with box together at home.

Sid Madge describes ways in which change can become something to be embraced rather than a source of concern.

The global pandemic has brought huge change to all our lives. Many of us, and especially children with learning difficulties have struggled to make sense of the change. But the upheaval also presents an opportunity for growth. Helping children with learning difficulties to embrace change and see it as an adventure can be one of the most important life skills they ever learn. 

I’m a great believer in instant change, little ‘micro-moments’ of learning or adaptation that allow us to actively take charge of our situation and emotions in the moment, reset and bring more of our best to help ourselves and others. These micro-shifts are particularly useful for children who can find change especially challenging. 

Here are some simple ways to cope with change and build resilience.  

  1. ‘Failure’ is the Stepping-Stones to Success 
    By definition, change means a wanted or unwanted move away from our known comfort zone. It took time and practice to get comfortable in that comfort zone. Too often we forget that process and just remember the comfort. But change of any type involves progressive failure. 

Next time you need to encourage children with learning difficulties to embrace change, try to remind them of the need for failure. As Elizabeth Spiegel once said, “losing is something you do, not something you are”. Failure is not something to be avoided but celebrated. It means you are one step closer to the new comfort zone. It means progress. Just keep going. And help children to manage their expectations. Immediate perfection is impossible but consistent effort and aiming to beat your personal best will always result in improvement. 

  1. Happy Habits 
    Isn’t it interesting that we seem to be great at creating negative and unhelpful habits, but not positive ones? When faced with change, encourage children with learning difficulties to stop for a moment and consider what they love about life. Forget about the upheaval and consider what makes them happy. Is it spending time with friends, listening to really loud music or singing at the top of their voice? Is it reading or watching their favourite TV show? Maybe just hanging out with family is fun. Identify what it is and encourage them to do more of these happy habits. 

One positive habit that punches way above its weight in terms of impact is the art of appreciation. Encourage children with learning difficulties to spend a few minutes every day, to bring to mind three things that they are most grateful for in their life. Their family, friends, a special teacher, a pet at home. Just taking the time to appreciate those gifts can make the change seem more manageable.  

  1. Employ the 3Ps. 
    In his research, Professor Martin Seligman found that pessimistic people tend to explain life to themselves using the “3Ps”. Essentially, pessimists always meet the inevitable challenges in their life as personal, permanent and pervasive. In other words, when things get tough they will assume the problem is a personal failing on their part. They‘ll believe that it is permanent and that the problem in one part of their life will automatically pollute other parts. This is clearly nonsense – a missed bus or a failed exam does not mean the end of the world or that the person is now going to get sick or fall out with a friend. 

Try the opposite approach for learned optimism. Next time a child with learning difficulties is struggling, talk them through the 3Ps. Instead of assuming the challenge is personal, somehow their fault, encourage them to see it as something outside their control. Next help them to appreciate that whatever it is, it’s short term and that it is not going to mess up anything else. So not personal, not permanent and not pervasive. 

There is a clear balance to be struck here. A failure to get something done may be down to lack of effort so it’s important to run through the 3Ps while asking questions about what they could have changed to create a different outcome.

  1. Encourage and Reward the Right Attributes 
    Esther Wojcicki, mother of three talented daughters and author of How to Raise Successful People believes that as parents and teachers we should not focus purely on success and achievement, but rather focus on the development of trust, respect and independence.

She talks of the importance of giving children control over their own lives by making choices. But not a free for all – “Is it a banana or an orange that you want?” or “Do you want to paint a picture or play in the yard?”

Children, including those with learning difficulties, can do far more than we assume and the quicker they can appreciate that, the faster they gain confidence and learn to trust themselves. Whatever the change, even children can exert some control over it. Encouraging them to take personal responsibility and working out what they can do to make things easier is a great skill to learn. 

  1. The Natural Health Service
    As well as the wonderful National Health Service, we also have access to the even more amazing Natural Health Service. Change, even positive change can cause disruption and elevated stress levels. This can impact those with learning difficulties even more. Unfortunately, stress can cause havoc to our health and mental wellbeing.

A great way to reduce stress levels in children is to get into nature. Get out of the classroom, leave the challenges behind, even for a few minutes. Pay attention to the sights and sounds of nature and simply enjoy some quiet time. The growth in ‘Forest Schools’ have proven to be extremely beneficial to children’s wellbeing, especially those who may find the classroom environment challenging. 

When children are stressed or struggling with change this type of outdoor activity can be a great way to encourage discussion. Sometimes it can be hard to talk face-to-face, it feels too direct. But talking shoulder-to-shoulder while they are doing something else like walking in nature often makes it easier to share what they are feeling. 

  1. Social Media Detox. 
    There are now countless studies into the negative impact of social media and too much screen time prior to bed. 

Encourage children to get rid of social media – even for a few hours a night before they go to sleep. Nothing helpful will ever come from checking Facebook, YouTube or TikTok before bed. It is also better for their phone to charge in another room. The light and notifications interrupt sleep patterns. 

Ask them to check in and see how that feels. If it feels good (and it usually does) encourage a complete social media detox for a day. Start small and have them notice if they feel better. Make it into a game. 

By encouraging children to follow some of the suggestions above you can put them in the best possible state of mind to manage change successfully. Change is constant and the sooner we all accept that and get good at change the happier we will be. 


Sid Madge

Sid Madge is a transformation and change specialist and founder of Meee.


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