By Carol Surya, author, psychologist, game developer and workshop facilitator. Her practical parenting book, ParentMagic – Raising Kids stems from experience gained over the last 20 years working with children and their parents worldwide. You will find her company, Raising Kids Positively on Jozikids and Kznkids
Although our kids are often spontaneous, creative and highly adaptable, unfortunately, not all new situations are as exciting for your child as you would hope or like them to be. Sometimes when you think they’ll be thrilled with starting ‘big’ school, yet actually they may need more support than you realised.
It helps to remember that because children are still developing, they are more vulnerable to any big change (i.e. like starting ‘big’ school, moving homes, cities, the birth of a sibling). Big changes (especially if not prepared for) may easily show up in negative behaviours and/or affect their emotional security (foundation). By understanding this, there are a few simple things you can do to help them adjust to the change – keeping their foundation secure and their self-esteem flourishing.
Top tips for new beginnings
- prepare them in advance: tell, show and answer questions as much as possible before the change; include as much visual and physical preparation (e.g. show photos or take them to see the new home, school in advance)
- make them feel important – include them in planning, helping them feel special and worthy
- anticipate their mixed feelings – around the change (i.e., it’s OK to feel excited and nervous; happy and sad; loving and jealous)
- answer their questions about the future – children are often unsure what to expect and end up guessing or stressing unnecessarily
- check for concerns – “what might be the hardest for you about this?”
- encourage sharing of all feelings and concerns – even casually while you’re driving in the car, at dinner or bed time before and after the change
- be available and watch them closely – after the ‘beginning’ has happened, really listen to them, be responsive to their needs and regularly check how they’re feeling about the change (over the next days and weeks)
Important to consider:
- starting a new phase at school – often creates nervousness about performance; new teachers; and friendship concerns
- birth of a sibling – youngsters often feel that a new sibling may affect their importance in the family
- moving – to a new home, even though it may be a better one, can be very unsettling; moving cities or countries is naturally a much bigger change needing far more emotional preparation.
- remarriage of a parent– isn’t always easy to accept, adjusting to ‘blended families’ often takes a lot of time, patience and consistent reassuring of both parents’ love (especially if it happens within two years after the parents’ divorce)
It also helps to remember that in general, younger children need more repetition (in words) to help prepare them for something new, whereas older children often need more time and advance warning. By creating a special “ceremony” together with the top tips above, you will be marking the ‘beginning’ in a great and meaningful way. With a little bit of effort this often makes a wonderful difference to how your kids experience any new event, rite of passage or big change.