It’s sad to see children give up too easily, become overly anxious about events, or be afraid of change. Persistent behavior and an optimistic view can help children overcome many obstacles, which will lead to healthier self-regard.
Consider the case of Maria. As an only child, she and her parents developed very comfortable routines around their family life. Maria’s dad always got an early start to the day, waking Maria up to kiss her goodbye and then immediately leaving for the gym before he began his work day. Maria’s mom always cooked her a hot breakfast and then took her to school. After picking up Maria after school, they would go home, make a snack together and then sit down to do homework. Homework was followed by an hour of outside play or reading and then watching TV while her mom made dinner. They ate dinner together as a family at 6 P.M. And so on, with routines set up for bath, bedtime reading, and lights out by 8 P.M.
Because of some changes in their family circumstances, Maria’s mom had to begin working full-time when Maria was eight. A trained nurse, Maria’s mom chose to work a 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. schedule at the local hospital on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On those days, the family schedule changed dramatically. Maria was awakened by her dad and instead of a hot breakfast, she ate cereal. He dropped Maria off at a neighbor’s house to wait for the school bus. And after school, Maria had to ride the bus home and was met by a high school student who stayed with her until her dad got home from work at about six. Dinner changed a lot on those days—Maria and her dad tried to wait until 7:30 P.M. to eat with her mom, but she got way too hungry and was very whiny by the time dinner started. And, waiting so late interfered with her nightly bath and bedtime routine.
Even though these changes were explained to Maria, her parents framed the changes with phrases such as “We wish mommy didn’t have to go back to work” and “This is going to be really hard for all of us” and “Riding the bus probably won’t be as fun as having mommy take you, but lots of kids do it.” Her parents were expressing their honest thoughts and feelings, but they were doing so in a negative way that would undoubtedly make things more difficult for Maria. And, they could not be absolutely sure the bus ride wouldn’t be fun, so there’s no reason to frame it that way!
It’s not surprising that Maria became extremely anxious and even uncooperative with her parents when the new schedule started. She cried every morning about having to ride the bus and in the afternoon sometimes refused to do her homework with the babysitter. She whined a lot during the evening because she was both physically and emotionally exhausted. And, all of a sudden, she was finding it harder to fall asleep. Her whining increased the conflict level with her parents and made getting her homework done without an argument a long-ago memory.
What is the best way to prepare children for change? Children need you to explain change in a neutral or positive way, be honest with them, and keep the details simple. They’ll ask more questions if they want more information.
How can I communicate changes in the situation without upsetting my child? First, think about it as positive (expectant connotation) and not negative (punishment connotation). Second, couch your statements in descriptive language, not distressing language. “We can do more fun activities with the additional income –eat outside, more ice-creams, play more often in parks and have more outings. Weekends will be grand!”
Excerpted from “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children” by Korrel Kanoy, PhD.