Why Kids Act Out Before TransitionsAug 11, 2022
Do you find that your kids start to act irrationally in the weeks leading up to a major change or transition? If your child starts to react or blow up over seemingly small things that aren’t typically a problem before an upcoming change — and you’re left wondering what in the world has gotten into them — know that it’s completely normal and nothing has gone wrong.
Back-to-school time is looming, and most kids are going to be in new situations all over again soon. New teachers, different classmates, and some major changes if they are just starting school, moving up into middle or high school, or heading to college. As kids are approaching new situations, it’s not uncommon for them to act out.
As humans, we are not naturally wired to embrace change and venture into the unknown. To our cavemen ancestors, predictability increased your chances of survival — so those that stayed where things were safe and familiar were more likely to stay alive and those genes got passed on.
Because of our genetic programming and innate desire to stay safe, a pending transition can generate uneasiness in our kids, without them even being aware of it. Once this happens, their brains start to filter to find reasons why they are feeling uneasy or anxious — which is how the little things that didn’t bother them before now become big things. Their brains will look for and even makeup reasons to justify why they are upset.
As parents, the first thing to know is that your child’s irrational behavior leading up to unknown situations is completely normal! Nothing has gone wrong.
I understand that it’s hard to stay calm when your child is irrational, but knowing that the behavior is normal during times of transition can help you to remain calm when it happens. I’m starting to see some outbursts from my normally laid-back teen as the college departure date gets closer, so I’ll keep reminding myself it’s completely normal, keep my cool, and do my best to support her through it.
As parents, we can downplay our children’s nerves about transitions because our natural instinct is to reassure them — so we tell them there is no reason to worry and you’re going to be fine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take away their worries. The worries are still there, and our kids can start to believe that something is wrong when we tell them there is no reason to worry but they can't stop so they just stop sharing with us.
Consider instead telling your child that it’s completely normal to be nervous when they’re going into a new situation. It’s okay to be nervous, and it’s completely normal. Then you can talk to them about what it is that’s making them nervous, and then help coach them through it.
Please note, this is not an excuse for inappropriate behavior. It’s absolutely okay to be nervous, but that does not mean that it’s okay to be mean or mistreat others. We want to teach our kids how to notice when they are nervous, know that it’s normal, and know what they can do to help themselves through it.
I’ve been teaching my daughter different breathing and visualization techniques to help. Teaching your child to pause, put a hand on their heart, and take a deep breath can help them in the moments when their emotions are heightened and their nervous system is all engaged.
If you have a child that is coming up on a transition into a new situation, I encourage you to have patience if they are more sensitive or not their normal selves right now. Remember that the unusual behavior and reactions are completely normal and you can accept the feelings without accepting the behavior.
If you find that you are triggered by your child's irrational behavior, or you’re unsure of how to accept the feelings but not the behavior, I can help. I work through old triggers with clients and teach communication and boundary strategies so parents can more easily navigate these challenges and stay connected to their kids in the process. Click here to line up a free, no obligation call to learn more.
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