Strategies and resources to support children experiencing change
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Thoughts from Dr. Sara Freitag, our AfC Virtual School Educational Psychologist, about how to support children experiencing changes
Children and young people thrive on predictability and routine in their lives. Children who have
experienced significant change in their lives, which includes becoming looked after or being
separated from birth families, can often find change or loss of routine particularly difficult to manage.
In the current situation, even very young children will be aware that something is 'different’. They
may be spending their days at home when they used to go to school. They may be accessing education
in a school that looks very different than they are used to, potentially learning alongside different
children and adults and in a different physical environment than their usual classroom. Their 'before'
and 'after' school routines will have changed. They are unlikely to be able to see all the people who are
important to them, such as friends and relatives.
Children’s experience of change can include: separation, excitement, changing expectations,
unpredictability and loss. At these times, children’s behaviour and emotions may change as they try
to understand and adapt to their new situation.
Children respond in different ways to change and are likely to draw on a range of strategies to
manage this, some of their strategies may appear helpful, whilst others may appear, on the surface
at least, to be unhelpful.
They may manage this change by seeking comfort from others more readily. Some of their
behaviours may be described as ‘clingy’ and you may see some regression to previous behaviours,
such as wanting to sleep with the light on etc. They may need your attention and physical comfort at
greater levels than usual to enable them to feel safe and secure and to receive reassurance as they
become used to their new situation.
Other children may manage this change by becoming more emotionally withdrawn, and not wanting
to engage as much with others. They may not fully understand, or be able to express, what they are
feeling and why.
Some children may express their difficulties managing change quite explicitly, experiencing high
levels of emotions that affects their behaviour. This can include being angry or upset.
Children may also move between these different behaviours. Underpinning all of these behaviours is
a child’s need to keep themselves emotionally and physically safe in a world that can be
Strategies that help
Planning / anticipating
Be alert to the possible significance to your child of any upcoming
change, whether large or small. Once you are aware of these potential changes, it becomes
easier to plan and prepare your child for what is ahead (e.g. cancelled activities, not seeing
friends, changes in routines etc.)
Keep as much the same as possible
Try to keep regular bed times, meal times and household routines going when possible.
Maintain usual boundaries for behaviour
Boundaries show that adults are still in control and taking care of children, which makes them feel safe.
Give advanced warning of upcoming changes wherever possible
Make the unpredictable, predictable. Timetables can help children manage change and feel secure with the
expectations of the day. They will look very different depending on the age of your child. For
a younger child, knowing what is happening ‘now’ and what they will be doing ‘next’ may be
enough. An older child may need to know plans for the day, or upcoming week.
If your child is going to a different school during this time, or being
looked after by someone new, they may want to take something that reminds them of
home. This acts as a form of comfort throughout the day.
Answer all their questions (within reason!)
Depending on their age, children have a lot of questions! Do you best to answer them all, even if some are repeated many times.
Allow children to contribute
Give children opportunities to have a say in what will be happening. They may have
had a lot of their freedoms and choices removed for a while and may feel powerless or
Be aware that their behaviour might change in response to uncertainty
Expect that some regression may happen. At times of change, children may regress to earlier
behaviours, for example, a child who was happy to sleep alone may want to sleep with you,
or with the light on. This is normal and it is important to try to be as patient as possible.
Take time out with them
At times of change and uncertainty, a little extra attention can go a long way. Your child will
benefit from having special 1:1 time with you during the day even if you are working from home.