I am constantly surprised by the substance of my boys’ concerns, and how often they are completely different from my best guess at what they’re worried about. I’ve tried using a one-to-five scale when gauging their anxiety or enjoyment of certain situations and found it to be a really helpful way of help-ing them talk through their feelings. It is especially useful when followed up with a “Why?” or “Tell me more about that.” When I’ve suspended my own opinions and listened to theirs we are often able to work through times of pressure or anxiety toward finding resolutions, usually aided by hot chocolate and hugs.
A one-to-five scale will obviously be too complex for younger children, and some guess work is a must here, but it’s always good to ask “Am I right in thinking that...?” or “Is there anything you would add?” which help to foster a language of checking in and encourage shared understanding about their thoughts. When asking open-ended questions allow time for your little one to respond before moving on.
Keep planning together
When you’re aware of the concerns your child has you have a great opportunity to work together to figure out a response plan. This can be created through initial conversation, then by repeating the plan during the build-up to the first day at their new school or class. You could write up your plan in list form or with symbols. You might even consider creating story cartoons about getting to school, or whatever the concern may be. Having something to see or read can be reassuring at any age when anticipating something new.
It’s great if you can demonstrate that the plan may some-times be flexible: “We might decide to take the bus instead of walking together if it’s raining hard so you can arrive at school without looking too dishevelled.” This can help children antic-ipate changes in circumstances if your initial plan doesn’t work. The key is that you’re listening to each other and work-ing it out together.
If relations with a teacher, key person or friend at school have become fraught, it may be helpful to address the under-lying anxiety with your child first and then work out a way to help your child resolve broken relations or items.
We know that good, happy hormones are released when we are looking forward to something we enjoy. Research shows that a good balance of healthy diet, physical exercise, quality time with family or friends and the anticipation of something enjoyable helps to increase resilience levels to combat stress. What could you plan to do as a family or one-to-one with your child in the first week at their new school or class, or during a time of anticipated pressure?
A God journey
Friends of ours recently moved their children to a new school. What struck me was the way they brought their kids into the journey of change by praying together with them at each stage of the process. When our families got together over lunch, the conversation turned not only to the impending change, but to the fact that by bringing it to God together they knew he was with them and would guide them.
Jeremiah 29:11 says: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.’” God’s plans take time, and through periods of change we are able to grow in understand-ing that he is right there with us in the stressful situations in our life, and that through these storms we can grow closer to him with open ears and open hearts. God doesn’t always take stressful situations away, but he gives us renewed strength to face them. What an opportunity we have as parents and carers to invite God’s Spirit into the everyday ups and downs of our kids’ lives.
My prayer for you is that through the difficulties of change and the new term ahead you continue to develop strong and positive relationships with your children. That together you will know the God who hears and gives his strength, who plans and gives light for each step, and who is journeying with you and your family.
RAE MORFIN is head of early intervention at TLG