As parents so often we are advised to get our children into routines and to have constant, regular rhythms and patterns each day. Some books even go to the extent of telling us how many minutes our babies should nap and sleep, and at what times of the day they should wake, feed, play, and for how long. And this works well for some families where the children thrive on routine, and not so well for others who prefer to find their own way through listening to their own inner rhythms.
As parents, we need to discover for ourselves what kinds of routines and rhythms.work best for our own children, and perhaps the only way to do this is to try, to observe, to see how our kids are doing and by tuning into their needs we learn little by little what works for us.
Yet what we are exploring here is the idea of supporting our children to understand and become comfortable with change. For as much as we may nurture the hopes, plans, rhythms and lifestyles we so want to create, the winds of change are something which exist beyond our control. Therefore supporting our children to recognise, understand and cope with change is an essential a part of parenting as is establishing nurturing rhythms.
One thing is for sure, change will be a constant throughout our lives. And if we can explore such changes with our children, listen to, validate and nurture their feelings and offer many perspectives from which to view the changing circumstances, we can build within them strength of mind, understanding and awareness, resilience and positivity which will grow with them, helping them to navigate the many changes which emerge through their lives.
Change As Ending, Change As Loss
The changes which my children have been navigating recently are the kind of things we take for granted as adults as simply part of life; leaving their beloved Rainbows group once they turn seven, a close friend moving to another country, moving house, the death of a dearly loved kitten, changes in their learning, such as leaving or starting school, changing class or getting a new teacher.
Yet for our children such changes can seem enormous, and at times catastrophic. For our children do not, as yet, have the longer-term perspective that change is part of life, and that new things flow into the space left by the old. Very naturally, they FEEL the change. They equate the change as loss, as an ending, and can be very upset by what is no longer a part of their life.
Navigating Change ~ A Heart Centered Approach
Rather than just telling them that this is part of life, that it’s part of what happens, and to just get on with it, here is how we’ve been navigating our way through such changes recently. And empathy, an understanding of the feelings of one another, and the quality which I believe will change the world, lies at the very heart of the journey.
This is the pattern we follow when faced with change; we don’t put a timescale on each stage, and may very well flow back and forwards between each step as needed:
- Validate their feelings
- Explore what’s happening
- One door closes, another door opens, what may come into the new space?
Validating Feelings Rather Than Dismissing or Fixing
Often when children speak of change, their initial expression is of their feelings, and how we react to our children’s feelings is an essential element of our parenting. The validating approach, (explained in great detail by Naomi Aldort in her book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves) forms the mainstay of my parenting. Rather than telling my children anything when they begin to talk, rather I listen. I hear them say they don’t want to leave their Rainbows group, how they don’t want their friend to move country, that they will miss her. And I try to say little, and especially nothing to dismiss or invalidate their feelings, such as ‘well that’s just what happens.’ Rather I listen, hold the space for them to speak, I ask them to tell me more, and I validate.
We stay with the feelings and I let them know I’ve really heard what they’re saying through reflecting back; ‘gosh you have loved Rainbows so much haven’t you, with all your friends, and I can hear you really don’t want to leave, will you be really sad to miss the others girls, and the things you do each week?’ This doesn’t change anything about the situation, but when time is taken to really listen and validate their feelings, connection is made, and children feel heard, listened to and understood. With the loss of my daughter’s kitten, this part of the process was intense, and took a long, long time. And I said very little, just holding her and reflecting back the feelings she was saying, or showing she felt. It was tough and I so wanted to be able to fix it, to just heal her pain, but life doesn’t work that way. So we created, and held a quiet, nurturing space for her to talk and feel into. And over time things shifted.
So many of us simply want to be heard; we don’t want things to be instantly ‘fixed’ for us by others…which isn’t often possible really, and our children are no different. The quick fix of ‘buying another one’ of whatever was broken, or distracting them with a new toy or an ice-cream may seem like the best idea at the time, but also a little time taken to nurture their emotional landscapes through listening and validating their feelings helps them to develop greater emotional self awareness, a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and builds greater bridges of connection between us as well as increasing their own capacity for empathy for the feelings of others.
Interestingly, if we miss out this stage, or just pay lip service to it, it’s hard to go much further. For when children (and adults!) don’t feel truly heard, they become stuck here, trying ever harder to illustrate and display their feelings to those around them. I saw this so often in previous work as a community and youth and family mediator. Things would have got very bad between neighbors or parents and young people, over what seemed like small issues such as parking or taking the bins out, yet when we really hold the space for people to talk, it is the experience of sharing their feelings and actually being heard on their emotional landscapes, in all of their vulnerabilities, which is the key to moving forward.
Exploring What’s Happening
Once we have held a space to hear and validate our children’s feelings, (and this may come and go over time, through the days weeks and months, repeating certain aspects of this process as needed), we find it useful to look at what is actually happening; just the facts of the situation, and why this may be so. Our great friend is moving countries as her parents have a new job overseas. We know we feel sad about this, but now we’ve heard our feelings, we are able to look at the situation from a different perspective. We can see why this is a good thing for her family and it will bring her many new experiences. Changes in education, a new teacher, or leaving or starting school, we again look at what is happening and why.
This stage invites the child to look at the situation not from the intensity of their own feelings, which we have heard, listened to and dearly understood previously, but from a more intellectual perspective, where they are able to examine the situation, and see it from some other points of view, and how it may feel for others. We can start to understand why things may be so. Yet we can only do this when our own emotions are not raging to be heard, hence the crucial importance of validating their own feelings first.
One Door Closes, Another Door Opens
So often change is viewed as something to fear; we no longer have something we had before, something is gone, and the unknown becomes more present in our lives. And for children, who have less experiences than adults of dealing with the unknown, this can be frightening. Yet as parents we can cultivate within our children positivity and resilience, and how we have been doing this is by exploring the idea that when something leaves our life, it makes a space for something new to flow into that space.
We have simply been saying to one another that when one door closes, another door opens. And then we have been looking for examples of this in the small changes which show up in our lives. Sometimes these changes show up sooner, and sometimes they come later, but they come once we recognise there is a space to welcome them into. Sometimes we may even begin to invite the new into this space.
No longer being able to go to the beloved Rainbows has, after a few weeks, led to the discovery of a new Brownies group with a new friend that she can begin. The friend moving countries had let to excited long-distance phone calls, postcards, planning trips overseas and of course the flow of new friends and experiences into that space. The sad loss of the beloved kitten, did, after a few months, mean we had the space to welcome a new, tiny fluffy kitten into our home who doesn’t replace the old one, but who brings a different kind of joy and love to our home.
Resilience, Gratitude & The Flow of Life
These examples are small, yet what I have noticed is that they do create a real shift in mindset when changes show up in our lives. And whilst often, if the change is felt as a loss, we do not recognise it as a change at first, because we are overwhelmed with the emotional experience, as this settles through being heard, held and validated, I have been so warmly surprised to hear even my youngest boy of four shouting out ‘When One Door Closes Another Opens’! Bless him.
Supporting and educating our children in this way does offer them the resilience and awareness to learn that they can cope with changes, that things will feel different at first, but then they will find new, different, and perhaps even better and more exciting ways forward. Even when I’m experiencing changes in my own life, now they remind me of this and even point out some of the new things which are appearing, and I LOVE this!
Another benefit of nurturing our children’s understanding of change is, that as they begin to develop the awareness of the process of change, that we feel the feelings, we look at what has happened from all sides, and then we know a space has been created for something new, when the bigger changes show up in their lives, we know we have given them a firm, positive grounding in greeting all that change has to offer. That it is okay to feel the enormity of their feelings, but that also the waves of change do not only flow one way, for when a space appears in our lives, we can begin to see this as exciting, for we know that many more good, beautiful and joyful things will flow into this space.
A lovely thing to do to affirm this process is to look out for the many things that do flow into our lives when the space is created. Look out for the new opportunities, the new places to explore, the stillness, the creativity, the friends and experiences which flow into our lives. Through doing so we can affirm, to both ourselves and our children, all that we have to be grateful for, and deepen our trust in the flow of life and all the joy it has the potential to bring us.