How to Help Kids Cope With a Fear of Change

fearful teenage girl

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Change and uncertainty are a normal part of life, and some kids handle these states of flux better than others. Some will embrace changes with excitement and courage while others will become anxious or paralyzed with fear.

When these fears surface, it's natural for parents to want to provide comfort and encouragement. But sometimes knowing how to address our child's fears in healthy and productive ways can feel elusive, especially because fear of change is not really a concrete fear like a fear of spiders or a fear of storms.

As a result, it can be challenging to know where to start. Here's what you need to know about the fear of change and what you can do to help your child cope.

Why Kids Might Fear Change

Fears are a normal part of growing up. In fact, it's not uncommon for children and teens to experience a wide range of fears. From being afraid of water to being convinced there is something under the bed, there's no shortage of things that your kids might be afraid of. Even fear of change can plague your kids.

Typically, kids fear change because they are afraid of what might happen, how they could fail, or what they might lose in the process, says Teresa Smith, MA, a counselor, life coach, and former elementary school teacher in central Ohio. Plus, change can make kids feel like their life is out of control and that it lacks predictability.

Consequently, when kids feel like they don't have enough information to make accurate predictions about what to expect, they might start to become anxious or fearful. Likewise, feeling like they cannot control their environment or circumstances can also lead to a fear of change.

Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS

Change is constant. Depending on a child's temperament, personality, and emotional intelligence, fear is a way for them to begin to make sense of the world around them.

— Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS

Life feels so much easier for your child when things are stable and predictable. But when things are changing—like starting a new school, getting a new blended family, or even beginning to socialize again as COVID-19 restrictions ease—this can cause kids to become fearful because they feel like things are outside of their control.

"Any new experience has the possibility to bring fear," explains Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS, director of behavioral health services at Muskingum Valley Health Centers and owner of Changing Minds. "Kids begin to consider what might happen. Plus, fear of change can lead to 'what if' thinking which then leads them to think about everything that could go wrong."

What You Can Do to Help

Kids feel safe when their world is predictable. However, things in life have a way of constantly changing or becoming unpredictable, especially since the pandemic began. And even though change is a normal part of life, it can be tough to navigate the uncertainty that comes with it.

For this reason, parents need to actively engage with their kids when they are feeling fearful. View this as an opportunity for you to earn your child's continual trust, says Smith. If you support them in this situation, they are much more likely to return to you for help when other issues arise, she says.

"How a parent comes alongside or engages this process with their child is key for success," says Smith. "If you want your kids to come to you during their college-age years and after, then you'd better meet them in these moments when they are teenagers."

Validate Their Feelings

Even though it's worrisome when your child is fraught with worry about the impending changes in their life, it's important to stay calm and reassure them. Be sure they know that you understand how they feel and that you support them. Resist the urge to minimize their feelings or say things like "It's not a big deal."

"Take your child and what they're saying seriously," says Smith. "Be with your child—meaning enter into their world of fear and get them to talk about it. Seek to understand and hear as much as possible."

Make a Plan

When your child is afraid of change, teach them to focus on the good things that could happen, not the bad things that might happen. Encourage them to write down and really think about all the good that comes from the change. Doing so teaches them to focus on the positives and embrace change rather than fearing it.

Don't aim to fix the situation for them so that they get over it quickly and don't dismiss them, says Smith. Instead, stay patient.

"Encourage them throughout the change and involve them in making a plan on how they want to deal with the change," she says. "Depending on the experience, you may want to ask your child 'What can I do for you? How can I best support and help you?' Regardless, don't make a big deal of the situation and just meet them in the moment."

Teresa Smith, MA

Change is something that will continually happen in life, so we want to help facilitate the way to enter into it for the child. Treat this situation as a normal part of life and show them how to embrace the change they are experiencing.

— Teresa Smith, MA

Be There For Them

Remember, connective touch is important, says Smith. Hold them. Put your arm around them. Touch their hand. Let them know that you believe in them, are there for them, and will always be their biggest fan, she adds.

"It's important for a parent to remember that kids watch their parents for reactions," says Rinehart. "Be supportive and offer love and attention. You also can talk with them about their fears and offer coping mechanisms like breathing exercises, mindfulness, and positive self-talk. Remind them that you are there to help."

When to Get Outside Help

Sometimes the fear of change can morph into something more serious like an anxiety disorder or other mental health issue. In these cases, it's important to watch your child for signs that they are struggling or not overcoming their fear in a healthy way.

"If your child is having difficulty sleeping, not wanting to do things they normally enjoy, is extra clingy, and your normal interventions are not working, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or ask for a referral to a mental health professional," says Rinehart.

Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, a racing heart, and difficulty breathing also may be indicators that you should get outside help, she says.

Where to Find Help

If your child is struggling with a fear of change or anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Teaching kids to embrace change involves helping them adopt a new outlook on change and approaching it with confidence and courage. The child who can grow into a young adult who can accept that change is a normal part of life—that welcomes change—is on the road to a happy and fulfilling life.

If, for some reason, your child is having trouble coping with change, despite your best efforts, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider. They can evaluate your child and offer a referral if one is needed.

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