Kids in Transition

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By: JoAnne Barrow, INA’s 2013 Nanny of the Year
Originally posted here.

Joanne-Barrow-headshotTransitional periods in a person’s life differ depending on many circumstances. They can be exhilarating and filled with optimism to some and can be equally scary and loaded with anxiety for others. As adults we have the fortitude to see an end in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel. For children it’s not always so clear and instead of recognizing as we do that it’s just a matter of time and we’ll adjust they see no end to the change at hand and therefore these “transitional periods” feel permanent and weigh heavily. I wanted to pose the question of what we as nannies can do to ease these times of uncertainty.

First let’s look at a few examples of transitions children may face. Perhaps one might be the arrival of a new sibling, their beloved nanny might be moving on, or perhaps they’re facing a house move which inevitably means a new neighborhood,  new school, new friends.  Harder still might be the loss of a loved one or family pet, separating or divorcing parents.

Wherever there’s change, there’s more need than ever to provide stability in daily routines. At the same time we can’t be rigid and need to adapt to whatever transition is taking place. Sound like an oxymoron? Well, it is a little; that’s where intuitive thinking, empathy and an unlimited capacity for patience comes in. The list of possibilities where change occurs in life is endless but there are a few universal methods we can all use to help a child in our care cope a little easier.

  • Listen – Reassure them that what they’re feeling is normal and that you understand. Validate their feelings by letting them know you’re sorry they’re struggling, and that you know it must be hard. Kids, like us, feel better just knowing they’re being heard and understood and your patient listening ear goes a long way to providing comfort. You don’t have to try to “fix” the problem, just listen and encourage them to tell their story as often as they feel the need to.
  • Pay extra attention – to noticeable changes in the child’s physical and emotional behavior, sleep, eating and even play patterns. You are a valuable source in recognizing subtle shifts and while it’s never a nanny’s job to diagnose a child, it is her responsibility to bring anything and everything to the parents’ attention so they can take the proper measures to best help their children.
  •  How are YOU coping? – Are you showing fear and worry or hope and optimism?  Nannies are always modeling and times of transition are perfect opportunities to exhibit positivity and resilience.
  • Grieving is a process – There are no right and wrong time frames for dealing with it. You don’t have to guess your way through this challenging time and no one expects you to innately have all the answers. Do some research online; there are many helpful resources available. For those of you who took Dr. Deborah Gilboa’s workshop at conference, Helping Children Cope With Grief, you’ll recall her saying that grief offers opportunities. She went on to tell us how it can help kids form deeper connections, develop self-understanding and reach out for help; and she finished in true Dr. G form by reminding us again that grief builds resilience. So many great take-aways, but my personal favorite was to tell a child who needed a break from their sadness, “Put your worry in my hands for 20 minutes and go play. I’ll hold it for you.” Think about that for a moment…. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone offered to hold your troubles for 20 minutes? What a break!
  • Laughter – A great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Have a good supply of jokes in your repertoire and pop them in at just the right moment. Obviously you’ll need to gauge the situation to be sure a joke’s appropriate, but humor can be a great stress busterDon’t be afraid to be silly either; kids love it when you are and a good belly laugh goes a long way to providing relief in tense situations.
  • Read about it – Visit the library and find an age-appropriate book that addresses the transition in a way your child can understand and relate to.
  • Show empathy – Children aren’t born understanding empathy. It’s a learned skill and they appreciate receiving it when they’re struggling. The more we exhibit empathy, the sooner they learn to pay it forward.
  • Teach them to breathe – When stressed it takes kids all they have to maintain composure. Learning to manage frustrations and emotions with simple breathing techniques can often save a child long before they face the added upset of a meltdown.

Remind them often too that their feelings will change over time and that there will be good times in their life again.

“Blue skies around the corner” as my Nanny Flo would have said. I should note that “Nanny” is what we call our grandmothers in South East England.

Till next time,
Joanne Barrow

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