HELPING YOUR CHILDREN COPE WITH TRANSITION
Young children love routine: it gives them a feeling of security. From breakfast to bedtime, knowing what they can expect to be doing, and when, reassures them that the world functions in predictable ways and they won’t constantly be surprised by unexpected demands.
Sometimes, though, the unexpected is inevitable: You’re moving to another state. Mom or Dad gets laid off at work, changing what the budget allows for and who’s home when. An older sibling leaves for college. Even a neighborhood restaurant going out of business can feel traumatic if that restaurant is the family’s every-week place for brunch.
Life transition is stressful even for adults. How can you guide your children through, when you may be struggling to cope yourself?
Explain What’s Happening in Age-Appropriate Terms
Don’t try to pretend nothing has changed. Don’t expect a five-year-old to grasp the full intricacies of economy and layoffs, either. State the basic facts as simply as possible: “Dad’s looking for a new job and won’t be making much money for a while, so we won’t be able to go out to eat as often. We’ll think of ways to make dinner more special at home. And when Dad finds that new job, we’ll have a special dinner out to celebrate.”
Do not—repeat, not—say anything that could leave the kids thinking life will be miserable, if not terrifying, from this point on. You may know that “I’ll never find another job, and we’ll go bankrupt and have to move into a shelter” is frustration-generated hyperbole, but small children are prone to taking things literally. Don’t even grumble about how the old company never appreciated you: a child’s imagination could translate that into “You can’t trust anybody, and no one really wants Dad to work for them.” Treat transition as a temporary setback or a stepping stone to something better, and you’ll help both your children’s sense of security and your own ability to cope.
Keep As Much of the Old Routine as You Can
Lacking the budget for dinners out doesn’t mean drastic changes need be made to at-home meals. Moving to a new place doesn’t mean you dispense with the familiar bedtime story and tucking-in. Even if you feel the world is turning upside down, your kids need to know that most of it—especially the fact that they can count on your attention—is still stable.
Introduce New Routines Smoothly
While keeping what you can of the old normal, don’t become obsessed with duplicating it. Whether it’s a new home, a new job, or a new empty nest, any major change means that some things will never be “just as before”—and that’s all right. Don’t hit your kids with culture shock by changing too much too quickly, but do emphasize the fun and opportunities that await; do implement these into new family routines as you go. Eventually, the transition period will be over; and if you’ve handled it well, your children will feel even more secure and cared for, knowing you all can cope with life’s challenges.