Whether it be a move, a baby sibling arriving, or the start of a new school year, seasons of transition involve big changes and can be life-altering for a child (and parents!). Children thrive on consistency, so when something “rocks their boat” their whole world may be turned upside down. Such events, though good in and of themselves, are not necessarily easy, especially for little ones. But there are some practical things we can do to make transitions easier on our kids.
1. Keep as many things consistent as possible. If your family always eats pancakes on Sunday mornings or has a movie night on Fridays, try to maintain those traditions even in a new home or with a new baby. A wonderful blogger I follow named Kayse calls such traditions “intentional anchors” – routines that bring connection and rest to the whole family. Keeping the same bedtime ritual or even cooking a meal you know your children like will be a source of comfort to them.
2. As detailed as possible, let them know what to expect. Depending on their personality, some kids may have an easier time with spontaneity than others; but generally children thrive off of familiarity. As much as you are able to, limit the amount of “newness” your child will be faced with by letting them know what to expect.
Our son began Kindergarten last week, and in the days leading up to his first morning there I read a “Kindergarten book” to him – full of pictures of kids sitting in a circle and singing, playing, reading, washing their hands, etc. When he arrived he wasn’t surprised to find a corner to play house in, a reading corner, a construction zone corner, and of course toddler-sized toilets and sinks 🙂 If you have a new baby arriving, let your older child know about things like diaper changes, nursing, and naps. If you have pictures available of your new house, show them to your son or daughter.
Also don’t forget about timing. While a birth cannot be planned, something like a move usually is. Younger children who don’t understand the concept of days or weeks will obviously not find it helpful to be told that “Kindergarten starts in September.” But some advance warning is helpful, since they may be overwhelmed if you simply announce that a big event is happening tomorrow. The week before Kindergarten started, we showed our son a calendar with his first day specially marked. Each evening before bed he got to cross off the day with an X and we counted the number of “sleeps” before Kindergarten started.
3. Let them be involved. “What should we pack for your Kindergarten snack today?” Letting him choose pretzels or grapes allows him to have a say and a sense of ownership. “What color should we paint your new room?” “Would you like to help Mommy change baby’s diaper?” These are all inviting questions that include your child and make them feel part of the process, instead of them feeling that something is simply happening to them.
4. Reward them. Give them something to look forward to as a reward for taking a bold step. During the first week of Kindergarten, my son and I would always stop at the bakery after I picked him up and he got to choose a special treat. My hubby said his parents gave him a new tractor to play with once he stayed at Kindergarten a whole day without crying 🙂 If there’s a new baby in the family, turn nursing sessions into something that is special for your older child, too. Let them have a treat, or watch a show, or read a book with you on the couch.
5. Be aware of your own emotions. Big events have an effect on every area of our lives. It may be obvious when our little ones are having a rough time, but we need to be aware that we are just as much affected. Our own sense of familiarity is also challenged. It’s normal that things we assumed were “dealt with” start becoming challenges again when stress levels are high – for example behavioural issues, bed-wetting, or your child falling asleep on his own. We need to choose to not let these little frustrations set us off or take out our emotions on our kids.
6. Acknowledge their loss. Transitioning to Kindergarten means no more morning play groups, and perhaps not accompanying Mom to the grocery store as often anymore. A big move means leaving behind friends, community, and perhaps relatives. A new baby means limited attention from Mom and Dad. These are big things to little hearts and we need to help our children mourn well. Don’t belittle the loss that they are feeling, but instead help them find words to describe what they’re going through and acknowledge that it’s okay.
For those of you who have gone through big transitions with your own kids, what are some things you have done that made the process easier? Share by commenting below or in the Facebook Group.