Building the resilience to bounce back – helping kids deal with big changes

Moving house, starting a new school and changing our social activities can be very stressful events in a child's life.

School-age kids have to figure out a new school, learn new routines, and make new friends, all while keeping up with their studies. 

While most kids bounce back quickly, some cope better than others. Sometimes it’s hard to know how they’re doing emotionally, because children can’t always express what’s going on.

Psychologist Giuliett Moran of Empowering parents says any major changes in behaviour or personality can be a tip-off that kids are having trouble adapting to change.

“It’s normal for children to display some changes due to expected nerves and uncertainty associated with a transition,” Giuliett says.

“However, being aware of the changes and monitoring the severity of them, and whether they’re improving over time, is important.”

The role of resilience

Part of how well kids handle a move is their level of resilience. Resilience is the ability to roll with life’s punches. It’s characterised by an optimistic attitude, good coping skills, perseverance, and healthy self-esteem.

It’s good to know that resilience isn’t something we either have or don’t have—it can be developed, and is something we can work on together as a family.

Resilience skills can be taught

Helping kids develop resilience means we nurture the social, emotional and problem-solving skills that will help them land on their feet. Here’s a practice guide to assist with encouraging those skills at home, too.

A good starting point is to acknowledge that kids have difficult feelings, and encourage them to talk about them.

“The sooner children learn to identify, label and communicate how they’re feeling, the easier it is for them to learn to manage and regulate their own feelings,” Giuliett says.

And that includes talking about emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration.

“We want children to learn that all feelings are ok, so they feel confident and comfortable communicating their worries and concerns.”

Helping kids develop their problem-solving skills also builds resilience. Giuliett recommends instead of jumping in to solve your child’s problems—for example, finding something they’ve lost—try working together  on a solution.

Seeing how you solve the problem step-by-step is how they learn to problem-solve independently, which they’ll then carry with them into new situations.

When it’s moving time

Giuliett also says there are things you can do before a move to help kids settle more smoothly.

“Children thrive with structure and routine, and this is because knowing what to expect helps them to feel safe and secure,” she says.

She suggests:

  • checking out what the new school, home and suburb look like by looking up photos and videos together
  • researching some fun activities, clubs and places to visit in the new area
  • establishing family routines for mornings and evenings that can be carried into the new location for familiarity.

Show ‘em how it’s done

As a parent, your kids will be looking to you to see how to cope with a move. Don’t forget to look after yourself during this time, and prioritise your own mental health.

“Parents are, more often than not, a child’s most important teacher,” Giuliett says.

“With a child learning and taking cues from their parents, it’s important [parents] consider how they approach and manage their own stress.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support when you need it. If you or your child are finding the moving experience very stressful, seeing a professional counsellor or psychologist can help put strategies in place.