We all know the old adage, "The only thing permanent is change," and it is doubly true for families. Inside that constantly rolling ball of family transitions tumbles around changes in the stages, needs and roles of each family member's life, as well as the dynamics of the family unit as a whole.
While we adults have years' worth of experience learning how to cope with change, children have not yet developed their own coping mechanisms, and look to us for guidance on how to negotiate the twists and turns of life's journey.
So, what do we do as parents when we face changes in the household as schedules, moods and conversations shift, leaving our kids wondering how to handle something they can't quite wrap their amygdalae around? Whether it is a new baby, a big move or mommy going back to work, our kids need us to help them find their way along life's tumbling, twisting path.
Your children are watching you with spongy eyes, soaking up every single reaction, remark and behavioral reflex that they see, tucking it away into the memory banks of their minds... learning, learning, learning how they are supposed to react when a sharp turn reveals itself up ahead.
So, what are you going to teach them? Here are some tips to help you along the way:
20 Things Your Child Needs From You When Things Change
Feed me, let me play and put me to bed at the same times that my body is used to. Even if I fight it, this will help my physical self feel a sense of stability, which will help my emotional self.
Remind me that I am safe and that you are taking care of all of the things that I don't understand. Don't panic in front of me unless absolutely necessary.
3. Healthy Food
My immunity might be low if I am feeling stressed, so help me stay healthy from the inside out with fresh, non-processed food (even if you are craving those french fries more than me).
4. Outside Play
In between all that we are doing, take a break and let me play outside. I was created to be in the fresh air, and my body does so much better when I get to run free.
Tell me what to expect up ahead. If I am scared, role-play with me to help me know how to act in new situations.
My health, mood and happiness will be boosted if we do some laughing. I love to be surprised with jokes, games and special secrets -- just try me.
7. Your Face
Look up from your screens and interact with me when I am right here. The top of your head makes me feel a lot less special than the front of your face.
8. Your Ears
Let me know that you are listening to me. Look at me. Wait for me to finish and repeat back some of what I said. This validates me and makes me feel satisfied and important.
9. Your Open Arms
Let me know that I can come to you any time. Put your hand on me or hug me when I do, reassuring me that you are my 'safe place.'
Teach me healthy ways of handling peaks of stress: praying, exercising, meditating, writing, painting, etc. Tell me what works for you -- and help me understand what DOESN'T (screaming, breaking, hurting, etc.).
Help me talk it out. Be as honest with me as I can handle and teach me not to stuff my feelings inside -- they can make me sick.
Teach me how to be present to the moment when things get rough, focusing on my breath, being in the here-and-now, paying attention to how my body feels.
13. A Role Model
Remember that I will start handling stress later the same way that you handle it today. You are my most influential Life Teacher. I am watching you... always watching...
Remind me of my good qualities and how I have gotten through things in the past. Tell me how strong I am and put a cape on me!
When I am afraid and behave badly, let me off the hook sometimes. Remember that I am not feeling like myself with all of the changes and might just need attention.
Involve me. Give me a job to help the family along and include my creativity in the process of regrouping ourselves. I might surprise you!
17. Extra Support (if I need it)
If I am not able to act like 'me' for too long, I might need more people on my team. Let's find someone that I can relate to so that I can work this thing out.
18. A Break
Forget the calendar for a few hours and let's blow this joint. Let's go somewhere fun, even if it means all of our tasks today don't get done.
19) Connection with You
Sometimes, I might need to feel like your little boy/girl again. YOU are what I need to get through this thing. Be with me, hold me, rock me and sing to me like the old days.
Let's step away from all of the to-do lists and find a way to celebrate the change in our own way: "First Day of School Dance Party!" "Play in the Boxes Post-Moving Party!" "Dad's Got a New Job -- Wear His Ties Party!" "Mom's Going Back to School -- Decorate Her New Study Party!" Give us all something to look forward to and affirm that our family's happiness is most important at the end of the day. Because THAT is what I need most.
Follow Dr. Karin L. Smithson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DoctorKarin