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Adhd or just naughty
Good kids - bad behaviour
Bringing home a sibling
Children and change
Children and play - your baby
Children and TV - How much is too much?
Children and TV - How much is too much? (Winter)
Effects of PND on kids benefits
New baby... are you psychologically prepared
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Change is a normal part of growing up. And yet it presents difficulties for children and parents alike. Lets take a closer look.

With every change there is both a loss and a gain. This is the process of growth, the process of life and the process of death. Pregnancy can be seen as a tremendous gain since you are part of the process of giving life to another human being. But there are losses too: the loss of comfort, loss of your figure, loss of memory or even interest in anything other than baby talk. With the birth of your baby there are tremendous gains in seeing five fingers and five little toes, but there are also many losses. Mothers have mentioned the loss of predictability, the loss of a career, the loss of intellectual stimulation, the loss of spontaneity, the loss of time with your spouse, and of course the loss of sleep. Weaning too has its losses and gains. You might feel the loss of having your baby close to your breast and being the sole source of his sustenance, but there is also a gain at having your body back. As your baby begins to crawl and to walk so he gains in independence and autonomy. He is able to explore the world around him without you. But there are losses for him too because maybe you won’t pick him up as much as you did before. You might expect him to walk. So he looses a bit of his babyhood. And of course for you there are losses and gains too. Now that he is mobile you loose some control over him and what he does, but you gain in that maybe he can busy himself for a short time while you make a cup of tea. When your toddler starts school, you are so proud of him. He has gained autonomy and independence. He feels big and this is a gain for both of you. But there are losses in the process too: he has to wait to have his turn on the bike at school. He is no longer the center of the universe. He has to share the sunshine with 12 other little people. As you wave goodbye you might feel ambivalent about him growing up, happy and proud at the big boy he has become but a little sad at having to say goodbye to the baby you once had.

And so the process goes on. The process of life is the process of growth. And the process of growth is the process of change. How we edit these experiences will determine how we deal with them. We need to allow a space to feel the ambivalence. This is not only normal but also appropriate. We need to allow our children to feel happy and sad about growing up. To feel happy and sad about a new sibling, going on holiday, going to school, using the potty, moving from a cot to a bed, etc. How do you do this? Acknowledge ambivalent feelings. I remember watching my three-year-old hugging her baby sister. She loved to hug and squeeze the baby until she cried. Her feelings of love and hate were all tied up in one single response, and one little body. I said, “Dena I can see that sometimes you love your sister and sometimes you don’t, I understand”. I gave her the space to feel ambivalence. If I force her to love her sister I might strengthen the opposite – dislike which will not have pleasant consequences for her or for others in our family. She needs the emotional space to feel ambivalent. This gives her the opportunity to deal with change positively.

With this in mind, lets take a closer look at what you can do to help children cope with change.


What is the change?

What are the losses and the gains for your child?
What can you do to help?

Going back to work

Your baby looses you for part of the day. There might be financial gains for you as a family, or personal gains. One mother said that she enjoys working part time since it gives her intellectual stimulation. This helps her to feel like a more effective parent when she is with her children.
Leave your baby with a familiar caretaker. Children prefer familiarity to change. Try, as far as possible, to keep to familiar routines, structures and environments. If is better for your baby to stay at home with a single caregiver than to go to a crèche with new smells, new faces and new sounds. If he has to attend a crèche then introduce the place slowly so that it becomes familiar. Let him take a familiar object with him too, such as a familiar blanket, which has a familiar touch and smell.

Going on holiday

I remember the first time my husband and I took the children on holiday; I told my husband that their next holiday is their honeymoon. Holidays are stressful because there is a change in environment.

Reflect your child’s feelings. Maybe he is happy to swim in the sea but he feels sad without his bed.

When change occurs there is a loss of predictability and familiarity. Children find this stressful. Anticipate the changes. Give information so that children can feel in control rather than helpless in this process. Let them know how many days you will be away for. Maybe draw this on a chart. Let them cross off each day. Let children take something familiar with them. Let them pack their own bag of goodies, which they can unpack too and make the new place their own. Stick to the same routines on holiday as far as possible.

Moving to a bed

There is a gain in having more space and being bigger – just like mom and dad who also sleep in a bed. But there is a loss of containment and the feeling of safety that the cot might have brought. For parents there is also the loss of control since now their toddler can come pitter-patter down the passage.

But there is a gain since the cot might have become unsafe – especially when your toddler begins to climb out.

Create the same nest on the bed with all the things from the cot. You might need to lie down with your little one to start as a way of modeling that its time to sleep. But try not to stay there until he is fast asleep or this might become a habit that you dislike. Sit on a chair or on the floor if need be. If your toddler keeps jumping out of bed, let him know that you will keep the door open if he stays on his bed. But if he comes off, then the door will be closed. When you close the door stay right outside and let him know that you are not leaving him, but you will only open the door when he is on the bed. You might have to repeat the process since children only learn from the repetition of experience.

Acknowledge his feelings in this experience. “I can see you feel sad when mom closes the door and you don’t want me to do that anymore. Mom said she will not close the door if you stay on your bed”.


Parent/s going away

When parents leave children who are under the age of 6 years, it is disruptive. Children feel the loss and might react to it by becoming needy, demanding, angry, irritable or sad. These are normal reactions to stressful experiences.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings in order to give emotional support. Try to stick to a familiar routine. It is not advisable to leave babies under the age of 18 months, since they are in the process of developing attachments at this stage. They need a caregiver who is consistently available during this time. For pre-school children you can put some stickers/ raisins in a jar and one can be eaten each day. When the jar is empty then mom/dad will be home.

Change of activity

It is common for children to resist change in activity. One mom said that she couldn’t get her son in the bath, but once he was in she couldn’t get him out!

Another mother said that her daughter sits on her lap at friends for most of the afternoon and then warms up when it’s almost time to go home.

These are typical examples of how children resist change. Acknowledge their feelings in the process: “I can see you are loving the bath that you don’t want to come out right now”. Then give warning for change. Or choice before change. You might add, “you have a few more minutes and then bath time is up”, or “its time to come out, would you like me to take you out or would you like to come out on your own?” Here you give choices where either option falls within the boundaries that you define.
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