Change is unavoidable in life. However, both good changes and bad changes can cause stress, uncertainty, and confusion until everyone in the family has adapted to these new circumstances. As a parent, you might try to shield your child from bad news or significant change, but your kids pick up on more than you realize. They know when you are stressed because of money or if you are going through a hard time with a spouse. They might pick up on this stress and act out as a result.
Let’s explore how children react to change and review some common life changes that trigger stress reactions and cause kids to misbehave.
How Do Kids Respond to Stress?
Every child is unique, which means that kids will react differently to various problems in their lives. You might notice that your child’s behavior is changing at home or their teacher might alert you to problems at school. These behaviors are warning signs that your child doesn’t feel happy or safe where they are. Here are a few common ways that kids act out when experiencing changes. Your child might take on a few of these behaviors but likely not all of them.
- Anger and misbehavior: your child might respond angrily to authority figures and refuse to follow directions or listen to their requests. They might yell at you or their teachers, stop participating in class, and start disrupting other students around them.
- Emotional sensitivity: your child might cry easily or overreact when expressing their emotions. They might be grumpy more often or less willing to participate in their favorite activities.
- Withdrawing from others: they might not want to participate in sports, attend club meetings, play with friends, or go to birthday parties. Some kids even withdraw from their siblings.
- Milestone regressions: you might notice that your child starts wetting the bed again, sucking their thumb, speaking less, and reverting to their baby ways.
- Changes in appetite or sleep: your child might sleep more or develop insomnia. They could lose their appetite or start eating constantly.
- Frequent illness: your child could get sick more often. These events could be real illnesses or physical reactions to emotional distress (like developing a stomach ache before a big test).
- Shutting down around you: if your child blames you for the change in their life, they might use the silent treatment to defy you. They either won’t speak to you or give you minimal answers before leaving the room.
Your kids might be young, but they still have complex emotions. They are likely feeling a mixture of anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, confusion, and fear right now. Whichever emotion takes over at any given moment could determine how they act.
10 Life Changes That Can Cause Kids to Misbehave
Kids are often stressed by the same things that worry their parents. Even if they know change is a good thing, they might have other emotions that cause kids to misbehave. Here are 10 common life changes that could be stressing out your kids.
1. Moving to a New Home
Whether you are going to a new state or simply a new street, moving is stressful. Sorting, packing, moving, and unpacking can leave them exhausted. Plus they have to contend with learning how to navigate a new place.
2. Starting at a New School
This could be a school change within the district or a move from elementary to middle school. Even if a child’s home life is stable, school stress can cause kids to misbehave.
3. The Birth of a New Sibling
Your child might wonder where their place in the family is now that they aren’t the youngest. Even older kids with other siblings might have a hard time adapting to a new child in the family.
4. The Addition of a Live-In Family Member
Consider how your child’s life was impacted by a grandparent, aunt, cousin, or other relative who recently moved in. Did they lose their room? Did their chores change? How could this relative affect them?
5. A Death in the Family
Both kids and adults struggle to process grief. Your kids might not understand what they are feeling or how to communicate it. Remember, they could be mourning the death of a human relative or a pet they loved.
6. A Divorce or Separation
Divorce is an incredibly common source of stress for kids. They are likely responding to your emotions about your ex-spouse while trying to figure out what their life looks like. What does it mean for them to spend a weekend with dad? What do the holidays look like now? New milestones with divorced parents could trigger negative emotional responses that cause kids to misbehave.
7. A New Step Parent Entering Their Life
Similarly, the addition of a parent figure can stress out kids. They are trying to figure out who this adult is and what their relationship is with the family. They might not be ready to accept this person or have a good relationship with them.
8. Parents Changing Jobs
Even a positive job change can cause stress for kids. You might work different hours or not be available to pick your child up from school. If someone in the family lost a job, your child might pick up on your financial stress.
9. Changes to Friends
Kids can be mean. If your child lost a close friend, they might be struggling to form other connections at school. They also might have a school bully or cyberbully who devalues them.
10. School Stress
Your child might not be in the right classes for them. See if they were moved to a different class or started struggling in certain subjects in the new school year. They might benefit from switching to another class or might need assistance like glasses or reading help.
A Note About COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the biggest causes of change that your kids have experienced in their lifetimes. While children are resilient, many experienced changes in friend groups, loss of loved ones, financial stress, and other anxieties from the pandemic. The pandemic may still cause kids to misbehave because they need to process these changes and understand how their lives have changed.
Now May Be a Good Time to SNAP
If your child is going through a rough time because of life changes, they could benefit from the SNAP (Stop, Now, And Plan) program by Family Resources. This is a 13-week program for children ages 6-11 and their parents to learn how to effectively manage emotions.
People of all ages make choices every day on how they react to things. A child decides how they react when their friend sits with someone else on the bus. An adult chooses their response when their favorite sports team loses a game. By building up strong emotional control at a young age, your kids can choose healthy responses in the future. Change is a part of life. SNAP can help kids work through current major life changes while giving them the tools to handle any problems that arise in the future. Call us today to sign up.