I can remember when we had bought another house before our old house had sold. We were under a lot of financial pressure and emotions were taut. We had a 2 year old and I was pregnant with the second and feeling poorly (ie constant nausea throughout that pregnancy and sky high blood pressure). We were doing everything we could think of to sell our old house whilst trying to renovate the new ‘bargain’ we had found. I can remember sitting on the floor in the new house, pulling up the nails that had held the carpet in place. We had stripped out the carpet. I was tense because our daughter was walking around on the floor with all these nails protruding out. I knew she was physically safe because she had shoes on. She would fall down, put another hole in the bottom of her tights but thankfully it never hurt her because she was still in nappies and the nappies absorbed all the shock and pricks from falling on the nails. I didn’t want our daughter in amongst this but we had no other option as we had no family around to babysit and this was a job that I could do to help save money. I would pull out a nail and get Princess to put it in the jar of collected nails for me so as to keep her occupied and away from the paint tins. She brought the sunshine into those moments for me with her carefree happy attitude of “if I fall, I just get straight back up and enjoy helping mummy”.
I learnt a lot from those days. I needed someone to ‘speak into my life’, albeit a 2 year old, that things were not as bad as I thought and that my attitude was what really counted. My role was to keep her emotionally safe. Our 2 year old was not stressed out because the things she knew as stable in her life were still stable. Mummy and daddy, a calm atmosphere, food regularly, her bed to sleep in, a lot of ‘constants’ and norms (ie what she knew as normal) in her life.
Looking back now, the things I learnt during those times have helped me to create a safe place for my family. A place where they can relax and know that everything is o’kay. A place where mum appears to have everything under control. A place where emotions aren’t raging and there is a lot of uncertainty. Yes, there is still uncertainty. There is still a lot of unknowns, but I try to create a peaceful, constant environment.
If your children are experiencing changes in their lives at the moment, whether starting school for the first time, commencing at a new school, moving house, in the midst of parents getting a divorce, family moving overseas, etc, there are several things you can do to help ease the transition for every member of the family.
- Pray for them. Pray with them. Bless their spirits with ease throughout this transition. Keep prayer a constant that they experience throughout this season of change.
- Children generally take their cues from you as the adult. Thus, try to maintain a calm, serene attitude. Any conflict between parents has a huge effect on the children and they can believe that since mummy and daddy are fighting then something bad will happen and they will divorce. You just have to look at your children and their response when they see you fighting or raising your voice at each other.
- Prepare your children in advance but not too far ahead. Timing is crucial. Timing is also hard to know. You don’t prepare your child a year ahead for a move, but you also can’t leave it until the packing day. Prepare ahead for how you communicate about the event/change to your children. Spend some time thinking through how you present it to them. Help them see the positives, whilst also asking them about the negatives and listening to them, depending on their age. Keep the lines of communication open with them.
- Spend time with your child. At times of change and perceived change, they need your presence more than other times. This can be hard because usually when change is occurring, you have more things to do and prepare. Plan what you can give up during those times so that you are a constant in their life at crucial moments eg of a morning preparing for school and getting there and straight after school and last thing at night before bed. Find time and ways to take them individually out for a parent-child date. Listen to them and ask them questions to find out if and what is bothering them. Brainstorm strategies and outcomes with them as age appropriate.
- Keep family values and rules consistent. Consistency is a huge key. Consistency usually translates as ‘feeling safe’ for kids. Keep discipline consistent, understanding that they may ‘act out’ during stressful times but they also feel safe when they know that discipline is still consistent. Keep routines consistent eg bed time routines plus favourite toys, books that help within reach.
- Kids tend to strongly dislike the unknown. Try to help them understand and learn as much as possible about the unknown to make it known to them. Before our family went to Mozambique for 3 months, we visited a couple who had been there several times. Both our kids, aged 5 & 8 at the time, had made out a huge list of questions they had. They thought of questions we would never have thought of, but things that were pertinent for them.
- Don’t buy them presents to make up for the stressful time. What kids need and want most is your presence.
- Brainstorm with them different solutions according to their age and emotional maturity.
- Have fun. Keep family times a priority and find fun things to do that don’t cost a lot of money and that are simple. Our kids love playing board games and card games. A quick game of Monopoly Deal is 15 minutes and we all have a good laugh. Things like this are an anchor that ‘everything will be o’kay’.
- Depending on your child’s age, you can appropriately share that you don’t always like the change. Share stories from your childhood about change and how you managed. Always reassure your child you will be there and will try to help them adjust as appropriate.
- Suitable prayer ministry for children can help. When we took our kids for prayer ministry (as no parent is perfect so every child will have some hang ups!!), we found a great benefit in that one of our children became a lot more courageous and willing to try new things afterwards.
- Celebrate the milestones or major changes. If you are moving, celebrate the big steps along the way, not just the final event. Our family like celebrating by having a special meal and watching a movie on the television.
- Write encouragement notes to your children and find ways of praising them for their character and how they are handling the change, even just reassuring them of your love for them. My kids love finding notes on their pillow or in their underwear drawer.
- I tend to share a lot with my kids and let them know my thoughts on a lot of stuff. I am careful to be age appropriate though. I also share my feelings, not to cloud their feelings and thoughts but to let them know that there are many times I have to do stuff that I don’t like or don’t always get things my way. That’s life. I also share my great feelings as well so that it is not just focused on the negative. I believe that it has helped my relationship with my children (Princess nearly 14 and Matey 11) and they often share stuff with me about their feelings and are very open about stuff.
- Be prepared to adjust. If a strategy is not working, don’t let it go on for too long without trying a new solution eg with a child starting school, if they are hating it and cry every morning, then you need to be looking at different strategies. You may have to adjust your lifestyle and give up something for a season so as to be able to successfully transition your child through their stressful season.
- Early nights, healthy food and pacing ourselves and our children helps everyone enormously.
What you focus on, you generally see and become. What are you focused on throughout this season of change in your family?