My mind has been dwelling on change in families this week as I prepare for the first of our Parenting After Parting workshop series in collaboration with Families Lawyers in Partnership and as the news is full of the Royal family separation of Meghan and Harry as they find a new path for themselves. There’s also been change in my own family with the arrival of a new granddaughter in early December which delights her 2 ½ year old sister but also throws her world into turmoil. And we’ve had change at The Parent Practice as one of our team moves on to new things after many years with us.
There’s no doubt that change can be very unsettling. As adults we may accept in theory that change is the only constant but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As adults perhaps we can be more embracing of it than young children. That will depend on our past experiences of change, our own temperaments and what the particular change we’re contemplating looks like. Harry and Meghan no doubt look forward to some aspects of their new lives. Of course they’re hoping for more freedom and less public scrutiny and a chance to build new careers doing meaningful work of their own choosing. That ambition to make a difference in other people’s lives and have a career which provides flexibility is one that many of us hold. This week at The Parent Practice we’ve had a wonderful group of people embark on our new online version of our Training for Trainers Programme with a view to enhancing their existing careers or creating a whole new career where they get a chance to contribute meaningfully to others through positive parenting programmes.
We know that children thrive on routine and they don’t always handle change well. Some children have difficulty even with everyday changes. Just transitioning from one activity to another or one place to another or dealing with different people in the course of their everyday lives can throw them. These kids don’t like surprises, even good ones. 6 year old Nathan was stroppy when his mum agreed to help out Tom’s mum by having him round after school even though Tom was Nathan’s best friend. He had a plan in his mind for how his afternoon was going to go involving his new jerbils and needed time to accommodate someone else in those plans. It takes time for such kids to adjust even to things like stopping playing and coming to have a meal. And big changes like the arrival of a new baby, starting big school, moving house, a family break up or illness can throw up all kinds of emotions that they need support to handle.
If you have a child like this you will know it doesn’t work to ambush them. They need preparation and their hands held as they deal with changes. Just wishing they could be more adaptable won’t make it happen.
Even the relatively adaptable child will need help with the big changes in life.
If you are expecting a second baby you’ll probably be thinking about how to prepare your firstborn. She was born into a world of adults where she had a monopoly on parental focus. You can help your child deal with her feelings of jealousy by describing them and coaching her on what to do when she feels that way. She needs to be gentle with the baby but when she feels cross maybe a jump on the trampoline would help. Talk about how it has taken time for you to adapt to new things in your life and what helped you. Give her choices wherever possible to counteract that feeling of not having any control.
Family separation is of course a very upsetting time and children of all ages go through an individual grief experience as they mourn the loss of what was, or even what could have been. This is compounded by the fact that the adults are experiencing all sorts of emotions too. It will really help your child if you try to accept your own feelings and enlist the help of other trusted adults. Try to keep the other changes that go with a family break up to a minimum. There will be new accommodation arrangements but keep contact with friends and extended family on both sides and try not to change schools at this time.
Even when moving house or changing schools are seen as positive changes they still need lots of preparation. They will take energy to deal with so expect your child to be tired and for behaviour to decline.
When the external features of your child’s life are changing they need to know they can rely on the relationship with you at the centre of everything. Keep to your normal values but above all reassure your child of your love.
It’s the season for New Year’s resolutions! Yay! This is an opportunity to start the year off with positive intentions for the clean slate of 365 days before you. Right? Or maybe it is an opportunity to feel bad about yourself for the resolutions that failed by mid-February (or earlier) last year? You’re not alone if that was your experience. Research shows that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Cue feeling down about yourself at an already grim time of year in the Northern hemisphere.
Are you going to beat yourself up for making the same resolutions in regard to your family that you made last year if you feel like you didn’t do so well on them in the last 12 months? This is a fairly typical reaction when we resolve to be more positive or calmer with our children (or partner). Did you yell at your kids in the last year, having resolved not to? Really? Welcome to the club.
So why do resolutions fail? Because we tend to make them too big and at the same time not big enough.
We can be a bit vague with our resolutions. We vow to eat more healthily or get up earlier or read more books or take more exercise or be more patient with our children. These aren’t very specific goals and they tend to focus on the short term rather than the bigger goal of building our relationships. Resolutions also fail because we don’t get support with them or because we’re not clear on whether they really support our own values. Eg why do I want to read more books? It’s only when we’re clear on the why’s that we can work out the how’s of our goals.
My advice to parents is not to resolve to be perfect parents this year. You are doomed to fail. You know there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, don’t you? And you are a perfect match for your imperfect children. No disrespect intended. You will not turn into perfect parents nor turn them into perfect children with just a little more effort on your part. And aiming for something impossible to achieve is not only the definition of insanity but it will also set a poor example for your children who model their behaviour on what they see you do. It would be such great modelling for your children to see you accept imperfection in yourself and in them while working with them to support progress.
So what are some realistic goals towards becoming more positive and more connected with your children? Here are 5 specific, measurable and achievable ideas.
Acknowledge your efforts towards your goals and when you slip up accept that this is inevitable from perfectly imperfect human beings and therefore isn’t a reason to give up. It may mean you need to adjust the goal itself or your approach to it. It may mean you need more support or more self-care. Like Thomas Edison you may have discovered one of the ways not to achieve this goal. That’s learning.
Wishing you joy and ease in your families in 2020.