Episode 5: A Wide Awake Parent can Prepare their Child for Anything
Preparing Your Child for Change
So you, in the grown-up world, recognize that a change is brewing that is about to really impact your child and their world. Your family may be moving, a relative may have been diagnosed with a serious health issue, your child may have to change schools or classrooms or they could be welcoming a new sibling into the world. When this happens we usually try to predict how our child will take this news and what we can do to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
We tend to have more hopeful feelings about change if: we have a clear understanding of the effects of this change if the shift will have a positive impact on us, or the change is necessary for a family member's well-being. Children are no different. They want to understand all the details and they can be very motivated if they or their family will benefit. So before you even begin making a plan for your child, think about how much you know about the details and what benefits will come to your family through this change. This will help you to exude confidence when introducing this new information to your child and help you own your leadership role in your family's transformation. Once you have figured out how you feel about the transition and have tried your very hardest to find something positive the change may bring, you are ready to make a plan.
Have a Clear Plan. Kids want to know what to expect. So if possible, don't introduce your life changing news until you can tell them exactly how it will affect them. What do the details look like for them? What will change in their routine and what is expected of them? Be prepared to answer their questions. Are all the important adults in their life united in carrying out this plan? By having a plan you decrease the anxiety your child feels for the unknown and you appear confident and in control, even if you don't feel like it, which will also decrease their anxiety.
Find a Support Network. Let friends and family know that your child is adjusting to a new school, a family illness, or whatever the life event is. Ask for the support you need from them, maybe it's making meals, helping you research information, making recommendations for professional services, or bringing their child over to play. Are there support groups or other families dealing with what you are dealing with? It can feel validating and reassuring to connect with others managing a similar experience. The more support you receive, the more energy you will have to monitor your child's adjustment. And connecting with resources may open up opportunities for healing you didn't know existed.
Plan "Breaks." What do you love doing as a family? This may be a good time to make sure you get to go to your favorite resturaunt, visit beloved grandparents or spend a lot of time flying kites at your neighborhood park. When faced with adversity, we all sponge up the sweet moments where we can forget all of our worries. It's healthy to recharge and take a break so we can return to the issue at hand refreshed and ready to problem solve. This is a valuable coping skill to teach children so they don't become burnt out and overwhelmed. If this is a positive change, a break gives your family time to process and enjoy this new information.
Be a Stickler About Routine. Even if they complain, know that this is comforting. "What do you mean we still have to go to bed at 8:30? We are moving OR visiting grandma at the hospital OR going to a new school tomorrow!" Yes there is a lot going on, and yes, the reality is that some of the routine will go by the way side during a big transition. But well rested and well nourished children have a physical foundation that supports emotional coping. Do you remember what your coping skills looked like when you were up at night with a new born? Barely hanging on is not the goal in this episode. And as there are many unknowns during transitions knowing that their routine is the same is a relief.
Help Your Child Create Goals. Empower your child at a moment she may feel helpless by having her set goals for herself during this transition. You might hear your 8 year old say, "I'm going to meet a friend in our new neighborhood." That is a goal, and you can help her in her progress towards this by going on walks together or to a near by park to meet local families. If you have a teen that is changing schools because of learning difficulties, meet with their teachers and help them set realistic goals they can attain in their new classroom. Then, help them stick to their goals by asking about their homework assignments and staying in contact with their school counselor. This is an opportunity to show your child that they have a choice in how they handle whatever changes life may bring.
Remind Your Child of His Strengths. When you see your child following your directions, helping out younger siblings,or showing optimism about their transition, verbalize your recognition of this. Remind him how well he has handled other challenges and be very specific so it lands authentically for him. By doing this you are helping him use this situation to build self-esteem and character. And you are helping your child be aware that positive outcomes can come from a transition, even one that causes worry.
Keep Things in Perspective and Remain Hopeful. If this is not a transition you chose or desire, your child can learn a lot from you by watching you take inventory of what is positive in your life, and what you are grateful for. It helps them make a habit of doing this during difficult times. This helps to keep the new transition in perspective, whether it feels exciting or daunting, it is one piece of your child's multi-faceted life.
Help Your Child See How They Have Grown Through the Experience. Be sure to point out any new skills your child learned. Maybe they know how to ride a bike accross a main street to get to school now, or maybe they learned how to help you care for a sibling with an illness. Make sure they can see how they stepped up to their unique challenge. This helps them to feel capable and better understand how change transforms and expands us.
Recognize Change As a Normal Part of Life. Most books and movies have a character going on a hero's journey, faced with something that seems gigantic that ends up transforming the character along the way. If your child seems to be frustrated or resentful about a change or transition, hear their feelings out and take sometime to rest and enjoy the story of their favorite character. Explore what this story might teach us about change. You can also discuss how the seasons change, and people and animals age. Remind them that change is a normal part of life.
Have Your Child Help Prep. Give your child a role in your family's transition plan. If you are moving, can they help pack up their room? If they are getting a new sibling, can they make something for the baby or look through their own baby clothes for an outfit to share? When your child helps they feel empowered. When you include them in your process they get to see how a big change is planned for and how everyone works together.
Be EXTRA Present. Whether this is an exciting change or a dreaded change, stay connected to your child during this time. They will likely need more cuddles, kisses and reassurance. If your child is older and you haven't seen this in a long time- relish in those snuggles! When you cannot be with them, can they have a transitional object that reminds them of your love? This could be their teddy bear or blanket. For older children this could be a note from you in their lunchbox. These items remind your child that your love is constant amidst change and that their inner resources are strong and real.