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Supporting your children through change

As your children grow, their support needs change. We ask psychologist Giuliett Moran for her advice on helping your kids as they move through different life stages.

Charmaine Yabsley 
January 2018

We all remember the highs and low of growing up – the anxiety around finding friendship groups, studying and exams and becoming increasingly independent. It's no wonder that we worry about our own children as they go through big changes and transitional periods, like starting or leaving school, learning new routines and navigating emotions.

Psychologist Giuliett Moran, mother of 3 and the co-founder of Empowering Parents, says helping children acknowledge their emotions from a very young age can help everybody in the family deal with transitions and challenges.

“To be able to recognise different feelings, label and communicate them, is important in learning how to manage them,” she says. “It's okay to be scared, nervous or unsure, but it's important to teach children what they can do when they feel like that.”

According to Moran, you can support your child into a new life stage by helping them:

  • feel emotionally stable
  • be academically prepared
  • feel they have a supportive family environment
  • feel confident in their ability to make friends
  • be resilient, particularly in relation to change.

“These skills are relevant at all ages and are built upon over time,” she says. 

Starting childcare or primary school

“This is an age where you can begin laying the foundations to empower and prepare your kids for change in later years,” she says.

If your child is anxious about daycare or school you can try to draw on an example of another time when they felt anxious, and how they overcame it and now enjoy that activity, pointing out that this transition will be similar. “Give them the confidence that you think they're ready,” she says.

“It's important at this young age to empower them to do things themselves,” she says. Introduce chores, or a daily routine, such as washing hands before eating, unpacking their bag after daycare or school, and helping with easy jobs around the house. “They'll be more confident doing some of these things when you're not there,” she says.

Putting a schedule in place can also help. “Children thrive in a structured, routine environment, which makes them feel safe,” she says. “The sooner you can establish a routine, even if it's the drop-off at kindergarten or school, the better. If a child knows exactly what to expect in a situation, then things are predictable for them and they feel reassured.”

Primary school to high school

“There are big expectations in your child's independence and responsibilities during this time,” says Moran. “It's very important for everybody to be organised and to teach children to take responsibility and make good choices,” she says.

To help children through the transition to high school, establish a supportive family environment and open communication with your child.

“Prepare them for the new routine, environment and the expectations of them at their new school and be available for them to turn to when they’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “It’s important to normalise any worries or concerns, help them work through these and to also discuss the positive and exciting aspects of the transition.”

This is also a time that technology, such as smartphones and tablets, becomes an integral part of schooling and often, their social life, too. “Set clear expectations of their behaviour,” she says. This can take the form of hours of use, websites they can visit and the importance of respecting others at all times.

A 2017 survey by Mission Australia of more than 24,000 students aged 15-19 found that their top 3 concerns were coping with stress, school or study problems and body image. Depression was also noted as a growing concern for children of this age.

“This is why communicating with your child from a young age is so important,” says Moran. “Making your children comfortable so they can share their worries is an important way to help them manage those feelings and validate them,” she says.

Moran also says you could share times in your own past when similar instances occurred, to help your child feel less alone.

Going to university

The main worries for university students include financial pressure, workloads, and relationship problems, a 2017 survey by the National Union of Students found.

Even though children are old enough to live independently at university age, they may still appreciate your support.

“Communication and a strong parent-child relationship are immensely valuable,” says Moran, “as they allow a parent to work with their child to plan for the challenges that they’re likely to encounter – such as helping them find the right balance of time for study and hours of part-time work.”

If you think your child is struggling, Moran says signs that may indicate issues include abrupt or significant changes in behaviour, personality, attitudes or beliefs, and emotional instability. “While mood swings aren’t uncommon [in teenagers and young adults], any longstanding changes to their emotional state should be monitored.”

Information on helping your child with anxiety, depression or bullying is available from Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue. School and university counsellors are also good sources for support and advice.

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