North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service


The events that trigger change can be positive or negative.

As adults, parents can see changes as an unavoidable part of life. Changes occur in many forms for families: when someone dies or is born, when someone gets a job promotion or loses a job, a single parent may marry and move the family or add new members to the home, a married couple may divorce and move, or someone may need to be hospitalized and everyone worries. All of these events bring about change in the life of a young child.

According to David Elkind's book, "The Hurried Child," the following are the top 10 stressors for children. For a complete list and a stress level quiz, refer to Elkind's book.

Stressors in Childhood

  1. Parent dies
  2. Parents divorce
  3. Parents separate
  4. Parent travels as part of job
  5. Close family member dies
  6. Personal illness or injury
  7. Parent remarries
  8. Parent fired from job
  9. Parents reconcile
  10. Mother goes to work.


Three- and 4-year-olds count on parents to provide stability in their lives. Five- and 6-year-olds tend to have a difficult time packing up and moving because they may be getting used to a school environment and friends.

When a child moves he suffers the loss of his home, friends, teachers and child-care providers as well as other familiar adults and surroundings.

New Baby

When a new baby arrives, a child may lose being the center of her parents' attention, her baby furniture and clothing, and time alone with grandparents or other respected adults.

Older children are typically expected to give up old toys for their younger siblings. Many parents expect 3- and 4-year-olds to lose their baby ways the day the newborn enters the house.


When parents separate, children lose a parent, a playmate, security and a lifestyle. A parent may provide the physical needs of the children but be emotionally unavailable.

In a joint custody situation, the children repeatedly suffer losses as the children's time is divided living with one or the other parent.


Death of a grandparent, parent or sibling can cause minor to major changes as the family reacts to the loss.


Starting school, changing child-care providers and losing playmates are changes children will all go through. The important thing is not to try to avoid change, but rather to help children develop skills in problem solving, communication and social interaction to flow with life's changes.

Children's Responses to Change

Children may become clingy, whiny, withdrawn, aggressive, sulky, depressed, overactive, jumpy or frustrated more easily in response to change. Children may also cry or regress to bed wetting or baby talk.

Stress can affect children's physical health, such as frequent illness, headaches or stomachaches, as well as their emotional health.

How Can Parents and Caregivers Help?


Sharing a children's book written on the topic you are dealing with is one way to talk about the situation. Children can see how another child or animal reacted when this happened.

Try one of these books or ask your local librarian.

Mr. Rogers First Experience Book "Moving," ages 3-7
Waber, B. "Ira Says Goodbye," ages 3-8

New Baby:
Keats, J. "Peter's Chair," ages 3-6
Scott, A. "On Mother's Lap," ages 2-6

Watson, J. & Switzer, R. "Sometimes a Family has to Split Up," ages 2-5
Girard, L. "At Daddy's on Saturdays," ages 4-8

Wilhelm, H. "I'll Always Love You," ages 3-6
De Paola, T. "Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs," ages 3-8

Allow Time

Allow plenty of time for children to adjust to changes and stressful events. Children view the world and all of its people and belongings as a place that exists only for them and their happiness. When life changes too quickly, children become frustrated. Dealing with children's anger is more time consuming than preparing for the change beforehand when everyone has a healthier attitude.

Positive Choices

Let children choose between two positive choices so that they have a sense of control. When time is short and emotions are strong, choices don't come easily, but children generally comply faster when given a choice, such as, "Do you want to hop like a bunny or scamper like a squirrel to the car?" When children refuse, the parent can offer further suggestions, such as, "Would you like to walk or shall I carry you?" If children still do not choose after a reasonable amount of time, the parent can calmly and respectfully choose for them.


Answer children's questions. Children need to hear many, many times where Grandpa went when he died. Explain in simple terms what has happened and what will happen next.


Reassure children. Let children know what the plans are and stick to them as best you can. This is the time to keep routines in place as much as possible, even when all else is chaos. Sleeping, eating and cuddling are important through stressful times.


Rules and limits also need to remain constant to make children feel secure. Most importantly, repeatedly let children know that they are not at fault. Show children extra love and attention during this time to help them through the rough spots.

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your county hone economist for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin, or disability; and are an equal opportunity employer.
This publication will be made available in alternative format for people with disabilities upon request 701/231-7881.

Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 2

North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service