How to help your child to adapt to life’s changes

By Renate Engelbrecht

Wednesday, Jan 13

No one ever said life would be easy. Things happen; things change. As humans, we are all able to adapt to change, but as with all things in life, we need to learn the skill. We have recently had to help our 3-year-old to adapt to many changes, including those that came with the Coronavirus and a baby brother. Here are some of the ways we have been able to make the road a little less bumpy.

Quality one-on-one time

This was probably one of the biggest contributors to making things a little easier for our daughter. She is already quite sensitive and needs a lot of love and affection (as do most children). She needed us to play with her. Not to give her something to play with or something to do. The secret was in playing with her or doing something together. Sometimes, five minutes of her just sitting on my lap already had a positive effect on her mood. Once we focused on being there with her, in the moment (with no distractions like cell phones or trying to make dinner while you’re at it), she was much more content. It’s also something that makes her feel safe and something that I believe will have a long-lasting effect on her emotional well-being.


Even though Catha was really excited about her new baby brother, she definitely also saw him as a threat. She considers him a threat to her one-on-one time with us as parents, she’s afraid that he will take the toys that she is playing with and I believe she’s scared that she will be less of a priority. These are all legitimate fears for a 3-year-old. I found that, when I involve her when I am busy with her brother, she seems to be a little more understanding. When it’s time to change his nappy, I tell her to bring her doll and change her nappy too. “Your doll hasn’t had a nappy change in ages! Let’s change our babies’ nappies together.” When I am cooking in the kitchen and she becomes annoyed with the fact that she doesn’t have my undivided attention, I give her a pot and pan, pour some dry pasta into it, hand her a wooden spoon and then we cook together. She has now even started taking whatever bags she can find and then she goes shopping. Just the other day, I asked her to go ‘buy’ some green peppers in the vegetable garden for us and she came back with the biggest, tastiest pepper and a proud smile. I believe the secret lies in making her feel important and part of the everyday things we do.

We also try to involve her when we play with her brother, Elian. This helps to teach her that they can actually be friends. When we play with Duplo, I encourage her to build a tower, which he can then break down and then we all have a good laugh about it. He has also recently started to understand what it means to put things inside of something else, so putting the Duplo blocks back into the bag has also become a fun game that we can all do together while singing a song.

Explain and repeat

Considering that she is still only three years old (I need to remind myself of that very often), her understanding of big things, big moments and big changes like the Coronavirus and its regulations and a baby brother who is also part of the family now (and not going anywhere), is not always what we would wish for it to be. We need to still guide her to understand and that has probably been one of our biggest challenges the past year. I mean, how do you explain to a child of her age that she is not allowed to play on a jungle gym (which is standing right in front of her with no one on it) because there might be a virus (which she can’t see) on it. I bet she was thinking: “Are you going mad, mom? Can’t you see that there’s nothing on there?” I have seen, though, that explaining something in as simple terms as possible and repeating it when she asks about it again and again, helped. It has become clear that when there is something she doesn’t fully understand, she keeps asking about it. Often, I changed the explanation a bit to see if she might understand it better if I approached it from another angle and sometimes it worked. The secret lies in trying to think at her level, explaining it in words she might understand and having the patience to repeat the explanation again and again until she gets it. We’re still repeating the explanation of “your brother is only taking your toys to see what they look like and to feel what they feel like.” We have also started to explain to her that the toys are not hers only; they are theirs to play with and they must either play together or take turns. It’s a tough one, but a necessary one. We’ve noticed that with the Coronavirus and lockdown regulations, kids are required to sit and play at their own tables, with their own PlayDough and their own toys. I’ve therefore realised that the responsibility of teaching our children to share – which was usually a shared responsibility between parents and teachers – is now mainly on us as parents. I do believe they are starting to grasp it and Catha has even started to help her brother when he struggles with something.

Change is a scary thing, even for adults. Let’s be gentle and try to ease our children into it. We need to allow them to take some time to adapt (just like we need time to adapt to life’s changes). Like I said: No one said life was going to be easy and I guess the same goes for adulting.


Photo credits: Shoot the Moon Photography


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