My family is experiencing significant changes this summer as we move from Chicago to Cleveland. As we walk through these changes as a family, our goal is to help our daughters transition as smoothly as possible. We know we cannot prevent sadness, disappointment, frustration, or confusion, but we can help them identify, accept, and express these emotions in their own way. We can also model a healthy process of grieving as we say goodbye, and courage as we settle into a new community. We can help them focus on the new, good things to look forward to. If your family is going through a transition, figure out what can stay the same and use this as you prepare for and support your kids through the things that are changing.
Try to maintain current routines, such as bedtime, meals, and activities you enjoy on the weekends. These may be happening in new places, but there is much you can keep the same. It is easy for a child to recognize all that is changing, so parents should spend time helping them see the continuity between past, present, and future.
Allow children to make choices when appropriate, as much of the change may be out of their control. Do they want to decorate their new room like their old room? Are their favorite toys and stuffed animals still going to have a special place on their bed? Favorite traditions, such as donuts with dad on Saturday morning, can still continue in a new place. For kids, the time with dad is the most important element in that equation, even when the messy face says they love the pink frosted donuts with rainbow sprinkles.
Engage kids in the process of exploring the new community. Our family has a favorite ice cream shop, so naturally we will need to try out the local options, and our kids can help us pick the new favorite. They can try out new playgrounds, get a new library card, or explore new bike paths. If parents can model curiosity, even if they are feeling discomfort and anxiety, it can help kids explore with greater confidence and see the potential for a positive outcome.
Prepare children with pictures, videos, or time spent in the new place before a move or school transition takes place. Meeting a teacher and taking a tour before the school year starts helps children feel more familiar on the first day of class.
Find books or watch movies that relate to your transition. For younger kids, The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a good choice. My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move: A workbook for children moving to a new home by Lori Attanasio Woodrin, Ph.D. can be a useful tool for some children.
Think about what makes you feel more comfortable during a time of transition, and see how you can apply this to your child. Do you need relaxing music or a warm bath to help you sleep in a new place? Perhaps your kiddos would also benefit from some extra time of relaxation. Do you like to know that someone else is also new to the job? Maybe your child would like to meet another new student before the school year begins.
Taking the time to do these things on the front end can be protective during a time of change. Parents cannot prevent their children from experiencing the natural discomfort of big changes, however, preparation, routine, validating emotions, and joint exploration can provide the support needed to weather the storm. And pink frosted donuts might help, too.