Helping Your Child Through a Big Life Change

Change is messy. Even when we’re well-prepared. Even when we’re excited about it.

This is true for kids experiencing seasons of transition, like when they move homes or schools, get their first job, or join a new club. However they feel about the change before it happens, there’s a good chance there will be bumps along the way.

Thankfully, God’s grace is enough for the bumpy and messy times our children will experience. Here are a few ideas for helping them better grasp God’s involvement in their lives when they face the unknown and unfamiliar.

Be Honest About the Messiness of Change

A hard lesson we all learn at some point is that God caring for us doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly in our lives. Kids may know this in theory, but during times of change they are often confronted with this reality.

For example, a child may pray for a friend when they start at a new school. They may do their best to be friendly and say hi to others. Maybe they’ve even thought ahead about fun things they can invite others to do or talk about in order to make friends. But as they arrive at school, they may find that everyone else already seems to know each other. They might find they feel shy in the moment. Or maybe, they try to be friendly but the kids around them are shy.

It’s helpful for kids to be prepared for realities like these. They may do everything “right” and still be disappointed in the end. As you help them prepare for a season of change, take time to talk with them about how messy change can be. Remind them that when sin entered the world, it broke lots of things.

Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He was preparing his disciples for his death on the cross. They were about to face a massive change – one rife with confusion, fear, grief, and hopelessness. Though on a different scale, these are feelings kids often experience as they face change too.

The words of Jesus are as true for kids facing change today as they were for the disciples then. As Jesus died on the cross, he said “It is finished” (John 19:30). He defeated sin and death and guaranteed that one day sin will be no more. Our world will be made new and right. Until then, like Jesus said, we can be honest that this world is full of trouble – but in him, we can have peace.

Be Patient as Your Child Struggles

The challenges that come with change can bring out the worst in any of us. Kids are no exception. 

As kids face feelings of insecurity, adapt to new rhythms and dynamics, and experience frustration or disappointment, they are going to be tired. Their tiredness will affect them physically, mentally, and emotionally. They will be more prone to give in to temptations to sin.

A child who has felt the frustration of trying to keep up in conversation with people she’s just met is more likely to get impatient with a sibling or to be more sensitive to teasing from loved ones that she normally doesn’t mind. If he’s felt overlooked or left out, he is more likely to lash out when told “no” at home or to act up to get the attention he has felt deprived of elsewhere.

Caring well for a child experiencing change and pointing them to Christ as you do so will require more patience than usual. Being willing to bear with them will reassure them you’re present, God is present, and they are loved even if they’re struggling to feel it.

Likewise, being gentle when you need to confront them about ways they are sinning can give you opportunities to point them toward Christ. You can help them learn about the relief and freedom found in Christ when we confess to him that we are struggling, ask his forgiveness, and ask him to help us. Tell your children about ways you have struggled with particular feelings or changes and have sinned as a result. Then share what it’s been like for you as you’ve brought those things before the Lord and experienced his forgiveness.

Reassure Them They Can Start Over and Over Again

Some of the pressure kids feel as they experience change results from how slowly we all grow. For example, a child who’s just joined a music club may begin to feel like a failure when her leader keeps correcting her. She may feel like she’s never going to get better.

Keeping Bible verses about our need for God’s ample provision of grace in plain sight and in mind can be a great way to reassure kids that they can try again and again. Some wonderful verses to consider are 2 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 2:8-9, James 4:6, or Hebrews 4:16. 

Each of these highlights a different aspect of the truth that we can rely on God, we can ask for his help, we can trust him when things are hard or messy, and we can keep going because nothing is outside of his care or his control. 

Another way to help kids find reassurance in Christ during times of transition is to emphasize that he is with them. They can start over and over again knowing they are loved and looked after by the God who is there. They are not alone.

As you care for kids experiencing change, you may also face moments when shifts in routine or dynamics with kids bring out the worst in you. Don’t forget that God’s grace is enough for you too.

This concept is played out in the chapter book Abigail and the Big Start Over, a realistic story about God’s grace written for kids by Bethany McIlrath.

For more resources on gospel-centered parenting, check out Rooted’s Family Discipleship Video Courses.

Bethany McIlrath is the author of the Abigail series. She loves to get lost in a book. When she's not reading stories, she's usually writing them or dreaming about them as she comes up with real-life creative adventures for friends, her husband, and a doorbell-like dog named Indy. Serving in children's ministry is also one of her greatest joys. 

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