Anytime we see our children in pain - physical, emotional or psychological - our first parenting instinct is to jump in and make it “all better.” Unfortunately, we are most likely to do that on our terms instead of on their terms. Moving is hard. It brings about physical, emotional and psychological pain for us and for our children.
In this blog we have covered many ways to help kids with the challenges they face when moving. They’re great strategies, time-tested strategies. But there’s something to be said for just letting our children “be.” We are rarely encouraged to avoid, nor do we have to justify, happy feelings, so why do we encourage our kids to avoid, brush off, or “get over” sad feelings too quickly?
A recent study determined that by the time we are 15 years old, we have received over 23,000 reinforcements that tell us it is not OK to show or talk about sad feelings. “Don’t feel bad, you’ll make new friends.” “It’s OK, you’ll like the new house better.” Or finish this sentence, “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Cry and you…..” (cry alone) If a situation is sad or depressing, we should feel sad or depressed.
For most families, integrity and honesty are part of the family value system. When we verbally and nonverbally communicate to our kids that they should not feel what they feel or talk about how they feel, we are in essence encouraging them to be dishonest. When we placate them with “…you’ll find new friends” we unknowingly begin to teach them that relationships are disposable. “I know you and Joe (or Jenny) have been friends for a long time, but it’s OK. You’ll make new friends.”
Hone your skills in listening, hearing and understanding. Practice reflective listening. Instead of jumping to problem-solving, try reflecting back what your child has just told you. Rather than creating camaraderie by sharing common experiences, let them know that grieving is hard work and it really stinks to lose something or someone you love. Above all, give your children the opportunity to talk about how they feel openly and let them know that everyone feels sad and angry sometimes. Reinforce that all feelings are OK while you coach them to find appropriate ways to express and deal with their feelings.
For younger children, check out Dr. Seuss’ book, My Many Colored Days, to help them talk about how they’re feeling. For older children, give them a safe place to talk about feelings and always ask before offering advice. When you respect their time to grieve and just “be,” you create opportunities for building trust and open communication. Always follow your parental instincts and consult your pediatrician with any concerns you have about your child’s emotional well-being.
For more information about the Moving Families Initiative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.