Transitions can be hard. The end of school; the beginning of camp; moving to a new house or a new school; Grown-ups talk frequently of the "major life crises." They're all about transitions of one kind or another. Certainly, leaving a play date or changing activities during the day at school are transitions as well, but for this newsletter let's concentrate on the biggies. It's scary for anyone to experience events that are out of one's control. When things happen unexpectedly or we begin something new, it's natural to feel some hesitation, curiosity, excited, and also nerves. So how do we help children (and ourselves) with these experiences? How can you acknowledge a young child's concerns, while also letting them know that they're okay and capable of taking on a new challenge? Here are some ideas:
-Reflect for yourself about the change to come. Why is the change happening? Do you feel comfortable with the transition? Is this a choice you feel confident about? If the change is out of your control, what can you do for yourself to feel more comfortable, so that you can give that same feeling to your child? Thinking about your own anxieties is not something to gloss over. When a parent doesn't take care of him or her self, he or she may have a harder time successfully addressing their child's needs.
-Acknowledge your child's feelings. It's almost always helpful to let a child know that you hear their concerns. Reflect back to them what they are saying and what emotions they are experiencing. Empathize. The fine line comes with prolonging the conversation or over-empathizing. We want to honor a child's feelings, let them know it's okay to experience them, but not confirm them. For example, if a child is concerned about heading off to a new camp you might say, "I hear that you're feeling a little nervous. Sometimes that happens. Let's think about what the day will be like." Then talk about activities or experiences that will happen at camp that are familiar and fun. If the topic comes up repeatedly, sometimes you can simply say, "You're feeling a little concerned. That's ok." and move on. Again, we want a child to know they are heard, to know there are strategies for managing and dealing with those feelings, but we don't want them to walk away feeling like they should be worried. Sometimes when we engage in long, extended, repeated conversations with a child on these topics, we end up ratcheting up their anxiety rather than soothing it. Needless to say, this will vary slightly from child to child and from one developmental level to another.
-Use the tools you have. Think about what has worked in the past when preparing your child for a transition. Use strategies like mapping out a calendar, taking photos, positive reinforcement of attempting new things, and social stories, to help your child be as prepared as possible. Sometimes preparedness is simply thinking about coping strategies. What can I do when I walk into a new situation and don't know anyone? What can I do when I have to go to the bathroom and I'm not sure where it is? What can I do when I feel sad and I'm missing my grown up? What can I do when I'm sleeping in a new room and it feels a little scary?
-Know when to ask for help. Sometimes a parents’ concerns require outside help or support. The same can be true for helping a child through concerns, challenges and anxieties, particularly if this occurs frequently. Whether the best route is to work with a therapist who can help you with effective strategies for supporting your child, or to have a therapist work directly with a child, it's important to reach out for help if you need it.
As always, a friendly reminder that you don't have to do it alone! You deserve to feel competent, joyful, and EMPOWERED, when you are with your children. They should feel self-confident and have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. I can help you do that! GET STARTED NOW!