As we are in the process of moving, I have learned a lot about parenting. Sometimes we are naïve enough to believe that the kiddos are oblivious to the situations around us. They aren’t verbalizing their awareness of the situation and seem to be going along with life unchanged, but that doesn’t mean that they are not being affected. Kids are amazing little sponges. Their little eyes and ears are so in tune with their surroundings that they are actually soaking up everything. You might not see it right away, but eventually you will see the outward manifestation of that intake.
I think that we can all agree that we all handle stress and change differently. What I didn’t fully realize is in one family we can have 4 children who handle change in four completely different ways. During this process I needed to continue to remind myself that if my world is getting rocked, their world is going to be rocked. It was to my benefit to stop what I was doing and attend to the crisis or meltdown. It was my job as their parent to help them understand the situation and give them the tools that they needed to handle the situation in a positive and productive way.
Kids like order. They like to know the next step, the step after that and the step after that. If they are unsure of what is going to happen, they will continue to ask questions until they understand completely. It is so important to keep them in the loop. Explain to them what you are planning on accomplishing that day. Are you going to run errands, pack something, or clean something? We also learned that it was important to tell the kids that with the process of moving there are variables that you cannot control and so it is a strong possibility that we will change our plans several times throughout the day. It is also good to remember to inform the kids of the change of plans as they occur so they are not blindsided.
Try to remember that special toy you had when you were growing up. That doll or stuffed animal or rock that you took everywhere with you. Remember how real that was, how precious that toy was to you? Keep this in mind as you sort through and pack or even throw away their prized possession. There is potential for lots of tears and emotions to come out as you pack away their life. It may seem silly to you, but they will think that their stuffed cat might suffocate in the box before you move. Reassure them, that they are safe and will survive the move. Allow them to keep out a few favorites that they can use as comfort items during the process.
Kids need a sense of belonging. Remember their world is being turned upside down. Make sure they have an area of the house that can be their little sanctuary. Try to keep their room or a toy area free of boxes and clutter so that they can have one peaceful place that has some semblance of normalcy. Give them a location that they can place a few items that will be safe from boxes and will not be packed until the last possible moment.
Remember that each kid deals with changes differently. Help them to recognize their feelings and give them the tools to deal with it in a healthy way. Here are examples of how our four children dealt with the move and ways that we helped them with the process. (Examples are not in birth order.) These tips can be applied to any type of new or stressful situation: moving, starting school, going on vacation, birth of sibling, death of family member and so many more.
- Child who is always optimistic, easily adaptable, and goes with the flow.
Strategy: Just keep this child informed of the progress. Give them jobs to do, to feel a part.
- Child who is excited but anxious about change, sometimes to the point where it even makes them feel sick. This child can be very excited and happy about the change but anxious to see how it will all pan out and if everyone will be happy.
Strategy: Talk about how even when something exciting is happening it can cause you to be nervous, which can sometimes manifest itself in upset stomach and nausea. Let them know that it is a normal reaction but we can fight the sick feelings with prayer and scripture. Give them scriptures on fear to stand on. Try to make some part of their lives normal so they have a place to retreat when they get overwhelmed. (Check out Nate’s posts on Anxiety for other tools in dealing with this personality…more are coming!)
- A child who is losing their mind and their ability to have self-control. This child will feel like their life is in chaos and so they will lose their ability to keep their voice, opinions and emotions in check. Typically this is the child that has to work on self-control more than others and so a stressful situation exacerbates it.
Strategy: Love on this child, give them extra special attention so that they feel like they are more important than the jobs at hand. Give them jobs to do so that they can use their energy to keep busy doing productive, helpful things.
- Child who is scared, clingy, and grumpy. This is most likely a younger child that has no idea what is going on. Every day things are in a new place and they may even be sleeping in different places. This child might have a fear that you are going to leave them in a strange, unknown place. If you are having work done on your old or new place, strange people are always around. This can add to their stress.
Strategy: Try to take time out to love on them and hold them. Make sure that they get their normal naps. Always have food and drink available for them. Pray for a huge amount of patience as you help them adjust.
There may be other personalities that deal with change differently, these are just the ones we have encountered. How do you help your child deal with change? What are the warning signs that they need a little understanding?