Transitional periods are a part of life. They can be exhilarating and fun or they can be scary and loaded with anxiety. As adults we know there’s an end to change. For children it’s not always clear. Instead of recognizing as we do that in time we’ll adjust, they see no end and therefore these “transitional periods” feel permanent and can often weigh heavily.
How can nannies help ease a child’s time of uncertainty?
Let’s consider some common transitions. Perhaps it’s the arrival of a new sibling? Perhaps you, their beloved nanny is moving on? Perhaps they’re moving house which equals a new neighborhood, new school, new friends! Harder still would be the loss of a loved one or family pet or separating or divorcing parents.
Wherever there’s change in a child’s life, we need to provide stability in daily routines- now more than ever. At the same time we can’t be rigid; you may need to adjust your tactics at any moment. Sound like an oxymoron? Well, it is a little; that’s where your intuition, judgement, empathy and patience come in. While the list of transitions in life is endless, there are a few universal methods to help your kiddos cope with them a little easier.
- Listen– Reassure them that what their feeling is normal. Validate feelings by letting them know you’re sorry they’re struggling, and that you sympathize; it must be hard. Kids, like us, feel better just knowing they’re being heard and your patient, sympathetic ear goes a long way to providing comfort. Don’t feel you have to “fix” the problem, just listen and encourage them to tell their story as often as they feel the need to.
- Pay close attention– Are there noticeable changes in the child’s physical or emotional behavior, sleep, eating or even play patterns? You are front and center in recognizing subtle shifts, and while it’s never a nanny’s job to “diagnose” a child, it is her responsibility to bring concerns to the parents’ attention, so they remain fully informed.
- How are YOU coping? – Are you showing fear, worry and anxiety that may be inadvertently affecting a child in your care? Nannies are always modeling and kids’ antennae pick up on our subtle cues. Transitions are learning opportunities for all of us to teach and show resilience.
- Grieving is a process– There are no right and wrong ways to grieve, no fixed time frames to move through it, and certainly no one answer to help a grieving child. A few years ago I attended a powerful workshop by Dr. Deborah Gilboa. Dr.G is a wonderful pediatrician, author and speaker who spoke that day about helping children cope with grief. She said that grief offers opportunities. That grief can help kids form deeper connections, develop self-understanding, learn to reach out for help and build resilience. Grief like everything is a learning opportunity. She ended by suggesting we tell a child who needs a break from their sadness to, “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?
- Laughter– The greatest way to reduce stress and anxiety! Obviously you’ll need to gauge the situation to be sure a joke’s appropriate, but humor can be a great stress buster. Don’t be afraid to be silly either; kids love it when you are, and a good belly laugh goes a long way to relieving tense situations.
- Read– 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 while they’re usually 7 or 8 before they fully grasp the concept, they can sense it earlier and 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.