Why has my child’s behaviour suddenly changed?
If your child’s behaviour appears to have changed overnight, it is worth thinking about any recent changes that have happened in their life as this may hold the key to why their behaviour has changed.
Lots of adults admit that they don’t like change, however, over time we learn how to manage our feelings about it. Young children can’t process or vocalise how they feel about new things that are happening in their lives and the unprocessed feelings can come out in their behaviour.
Changes in behaviour could include having tantrums, being overly clingy, being tearful, not wanting to go to school, wetting themselves or hitting/kicking people.
Changes in children’s lives that might affect behaviour
- new sibling
- new school
- changes in routine
- lack of sleep
- conflict at home
- parent working away
- moving house
Tips on helping children adjust to change
Helping your child develop the tools needed to process change and to focus on the positives will help them to cope with new situations now and throughout their lives and reduce the likelihood of anxiety and depression when they are older.
There are age appropriate books on most major life events that you can read together to help explain what is happening. Topics such as introducing a new sibling, living apart from a parent and bereavement can be found in libraries and bookshops.
Young children may not know what they are feeling but you can help identify the feeling by labelling it, “you seem sad/ nervous/ scared/ angry/ excited”.
Tell them that it’s ok to feel like that, you understand and that you love them.
When children go through a major life change you can help them by connecting the two phases of their lives.
You could do this by making a book with photo’s and drawings in. For example, if you are moving house, stick in pictures of their old bedroom and their new bedroom. Look through the book and talk about the positives of the new house and how exciting it is to be moving, while acknowledging the sadness of leaving the old house.
Look for the positives
Children may catastrophise when facing the fear of the unknown. You may hear things like “you will love the new baby more than me”, “I’ll never see daddy again”, “no one will be friends with me”.
Gently challenge your child when you hear them say things like this and help them to visualise a more realistic picture of the new situation. For children who cant yet voice their anxieties, try to imagine how they are feeling and talk to them about the change in a positive and exciting way.
Resilience is how easily we bounce back from stressful situations. Some children are more resilient than others, the same way some adults are more resilient than other adults. Resilience is something that we are born with but is also something we can build on throughout our lives.
Here are some ways to start building resilience in young children:
- tell them you love them – a lot!
- build their confidence by praising them
- role model – show them how you cope in stressful situations
- let them know its ok to ask for help
- encourage your child to keep trying when they find learning a new skill difficult
Medical issues and certain developmental stages can also affect behaviour such as teething, toilet training, growing pains and night terrors, so it is worth seeking advice from your health visitor or GP if you are concerned.
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