Coming Alongside a Child in Transition
One of the most frequent questions we get working with families in transition is, “‘How do I help my children deal with these changes (in homes, countries, schools, families, etc)?”
Here are several things your child needs during transition:
Give your child more TIME…
As hard as it is to make yourself present to your child during a major transition, they need more time with the special people in their lives. Quality time. Focused time. We’re not talking about hours of quality time. A half an hour of focused attention on your child goes a LONG way.
Make it a goal to have a significant touch point with your child on a regular basis. Your child needs to know that you see him… you see his heart, hurt, and struggle. Here are some tips for connecting:
• Enter your child’s world… Your child’s passions are windows into their hearts. When we come alongside them to learn about their world, they feel valued and important. Play Barbies. Color a picture. Create a masterpiece out of play dough. Learn to play his favorite video game. Watch a video with your growing daughter about how to put on make-up. Read the Hunger Games aloud together.
• Bond over something out of the ordinary. Go to a pet store to look at puppies. Take your shoes off and splash in the puddles outside. Take a trip to the library to look for a book about something they love. Catch crawdads in the stream by the park. Have dessert before you eat dinner. Do something that feels a little crazy and brings out the giggles during a hard season.
• Put your phone down. Our kids resent our phones— and who can blame them? Our phones are perpetually pulling us away to the unrelenting demands of the more “important” things elsewhere. Ignoring texts and calls sends a powerful message to our child that in this moment in time YOU are more important than anything else.
Make a date with your child. A special outing where you spend one-on-one time is a powerful way to communicate your availability and love for your child. Making an ice cream run, taking an evening nature walk together, seeing the latest Avengers movie – quality time away from the stress of the upheaval can be a much needed break for you both.
Give your child more TOUCH…
Assuming your child likes to be touched (and some do not), most children need an increase in physical contact during times of stress. My psychologist husband says that during trauma, physical contact with others helps to ground us when our outer world around is crumbling. Not to mention that touch has been proven to decrease stress hormones, increase bonding, boost your immune system, and release happy hormones into your system.
Some simple ways to increase touch with your child might include:
•Kisses and hugs
•Playing with your child’s hair
•Back scratches and back rubs
•Piggy back rides and wrestling
•Falling asleep with your child
•Snuggling up to watch a show
This need for touch continues into the teen years (and for the rest of our lives!). One of my 14 year-old daughters regularly comes to her dad and says, “Hold me like a baby, daddy!” He will scoop her up – long adolescent legs and all – folding her into his arms as if she were an infant.
Whether she knows it or not, it taps into her earliest memories. As a colicky baby, her daddy wore a path through the carpet walking her through the night to comfort her stomach ache. The trauma of adjusting to life outside the womb and a hurting tummy weren’t alleviated through physical touch, but she was nurtured through the trauma through her dad’s physical presence.
Many parents begin to pull back from their tweens or teens who try to snuggle because they feel it’s not longer appropriate for an adult looking teen to be receiving physical touch. Although externally, they may be looking like young adults, internally they still feel like children. We cannot be afraid to love on our kids because our society has distorted messages that all touch has to be sexual in nature. Our children need age appropriate physical touch in ways that that are consistent with their personality. Especially in times of upheaval.
Give your child PREDICTABILITY through rituals and routine…
Some interesting research surfaced years ago about children of alcoholics. Children of alcoholic families that had strong traditions in their lives were 47% less likely to become alcoholics when they grew up. Rituals can ground children in powerful ways when they are faced with stress and unpredictability in other areas of their lives.
We’re not talking labor-intensive structured routine. Think about how you can elevate an every day behavior into a predictable action that holds meaning.
- Always read the same number of books before bedtime.
- Have a cup of hot chocolate together with your early riser.
- Develop a special way of saying goodbye to your child (i.e. butterfly kisses or a special high five)
- Saying a special prayer before you drop them off at school. Having family dinners together.
- Always going out for ice cream after a game.
- Eating pizza every Friday night as a family.
- Celebrating the last day of school.
- Watching The Voice together every Thursday.
- Playing a crazy song when you all need a good laugh.
The beauty of rituals is that you can take them with you when you travel or move. Saturday morning donuts became Saturday morning churros when we moved to Spain, but there was a comfort in the tradition even though the food and location had changed.
When my husband travels, he calls (or sometimes even texts) the girls the same blessing that he says every night at bedtime: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine up you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-25) It’s a simple connection point that gives them connection when they adjust to his travel schedule.
Will carving out special times, giving them backrubs, and building in regular routines at bedtime fix everything? No. Will they still feel short-changed and disoriented? Probably. In upheaval, children become a bottomless pit of need (as we all do). By nature, transitions strip us of our security and supports…. we are hurting, scared, and searching for solid ground. One of our hardest parenting lessons is discovering just how limited we are in meeting our children’s deep needs. We can’t. Nor are we meant to.
But do not underestimate the incredible power in your presence, your hugs, and your pursuit of connection in the turmoil…. these are important acts that give flesh and blood to God’s love in seasons of upheaval. They will imprint on your children and equip them for the storms to come.