Staying connected to children during transitions
Transitioning to a new country can be a difficult process for families, no matter how many times you’ve done it. As a counsellor at an international school, I am very aware of the impact of global transitions on families and how this process can be supported to help everyone feel settled in their new surroundings.
I hope to offer some practical tips to help parents who are going through a big transition to stay connected with their children during this time. Although some may seem obvious, they are often exactly what families tend to forget in the midst of a big life change.
Transitions are stressful for each family member. When taking care of goodbyes and planning for a new life elsewhere, it is worth noting that the things that are either important or worrying to children, are often considerably different from those of parents. It’s important to give children the chance to talk about their concerns so they will feel ‘heard’ in the midst of what may seem like chaos at times.
The challenge of being really connected to each other and ‘present’ in this highly technological world is becoming increasingly harder. During this transition time, be sure to have family time away from technology, really focusing on each other and making time to play. Every transition is full of new opportunities, and with the right attitude and hard work it can be a positive adventure for every family member.
Keep what you can the same
During transitions a lot of things change. Not only does the physical environment change, but routines and often relationships are temporarily affected. When family members are under pressure it is often hard to give attention to the small details that help children feel safe and secure. Predictable routines and responses from adults, as well as some familiar objects, can offer much reassurance.
Getting back to ‘normal’
‘Normal’ is comforting, and sometimes the feeling of being ‘normal’ again after a transition can take longer than expected. Everyone would benefit from realising that adaptation can come at different timings for different family members, and allowing everyone to ‘process’ at their own pace is important. Sometimes just the reassurance that not feeling ‘normal’ and in control, is exactly what is ‘normal’ during transitions.
When feeling anxious or overwhelmed, sometimes the best way to feel more in control is by focusing on the practicalities surrounding the move. Making ‘to do’ lists are not only helpful for organisation; the psychological effect of being able to cross tasks off one by one can provide a sense of accomplishment and moving forward.
It is often best to focus on one day at a time during transitional times. You are less likely to feel completely overwhelmed by breaking things into bite size chunks, as opposed to feeling like you have to “build Rome in one day”.
Find ways to help children feel in control
Children often feel like they haven’t had a say in the fact that they are moving. While it is not always possible or practical for them to be part of every decision, it is possible to involve them in making some choices. What would they like to keep with them during the move; what are some things they would like to do in the new town/country; these can all help to provide a measure of control.
Do it together
As every family member makes their personal journey through the transition process, it is normal to spend energy on what ‘they’ need to do in dealing with their own challenges. At times like this it is easy to lose focus of others around you. When tensions are high, it is very important to keep working on relationships, realising that though the environment may be changing, the ‘family’ is not.
Laugh whenever you can
It is commonly said that laughter is the best medicine. Research has linked laughter to many health benefits such as staying physically healthy and maintaining a general sense of well-being. When looking back at significant transitions, there is often much to laugh about, from crazy moving day experiences to early misunderstandings in a new culture. Whilst it is sometimes easier to see the humour in hindsight, with the right mind-set, and when not taking ourselves too seriously, much could be found to laugh about in every day.
ACS Cobham students on Orientation Day last year