Transitions, the comings, and goings ( Attachments and Separations) are all part of life. Given the recent pandemic, it highlighted the need to be together and also the need to be separate. Many of us including myself had to adapt. In so many ways the impact of COVID reflected the developmental thresholds such as individuation and separation.
Some of my work with families is exploring what’s it like to be together and how does it feel to be apart. Sometimes, we have no control over this, such as a death or divorce. distressing and anxiety-provoking. I want to offer you some ideas to prepare you and your child for common transitions and potential ruptures. Returning to work, school, or managing no work can be highlighted now. In reality, families, children, and life are always changing. Even though we may long and yearn for it, there is no permeance in life.
What are Common Transitions?
They can be physical, such as moving house or going to school. They can be emotional, for instance, a new sibling arrival or divorce. Here are further examples:
- Going to a childminder, nursery, school, secondary school
- Moving home, moving country
- Returning to work
- Leaving home, going to university
- Parental separation/divorce
- Illness, Pandemics
Why are they Difficult?
Transitions involve change, as a result, no change is easy. Even positive changes such as moving home involve a lot of stress. It is completely normal to feel an element of distress and anxiety. The distress will be heightened if the changes are unexpected, sudden and sad, for example, a bereavement. Difficulties with change often arise when parents and children had suffered difficulties and negative experiences in the past. These difficulties may remind you and your family of past changes. Difficult feelings may surface.
Examples of Past Transitions affecting the present
One of your parents may have died when you were younger, this may make any separation ( separation anxiety is not only experienced by children) distressing such as your child starting school, going into the adolescence or leaving home for university.
A child parents may have separated when they were 2 or 3, the transition from nursery to start school may be more problematic. They may be happy to go to school but feel sad that they are saying goodbye and ending nursery. This is an example of the child’s experience of early separation that comes into the here and now.
Moving countries can be problematic, this is very personal to me. I moved from Northern Ireland very young at the time of the troubles, so moving has always been something to understand and manage.
What feelings and thoughts may you experience?
- Feel heavy, down and more tearful.
- Your sleep may be disturbed
- Want to keep your child close
- Be more anxious, snappy and moody
- Sadness that your child is growing up and won’t need you as much
- Really anxious that they will struggle at /primary/senior school and will not survive the transition
- Wonder if they will survive adolescence.
- Worry you will not be involved in their lives.
- Anxious their new teacher will be good for them.
It’s very normal to have these feelings, it’s what we do with them that really counts. How you manage them will influence how your child feels. If you are negative about a transition, they might be too.
What you may notice about your child
I know I say this a lot, but remember that children, especially younger ones do not have the capacity to say how they are feeling, but show us through their behaviour.
Normal reactions may be:
- Your child may be clingy, wanting you really close
- Disturbed sleep, nightmares, early waking
- Aggression, hitting, kicking, tantrums
- Regressing, so they feel much younger
- Withdrawing, being quiet
- Going off their food, eating too much.
- Complaining of tummy aches, headaches, constipation, bedwetting.
It’s important to understand that children like adults have very mixed feelings about certain transitions. They may want to leave nursery and start school but may also be sad to say goodbye to the safety of nursery.
How long should these feelings last?
These reactions and feelings should not last a long time. They often resolve once you and your child have settled with the transition. Sometimes if there is a sudden change, such as a bereavement, or illness or multiple changes occur at once, such as divorce, new school, the new partner, it may all be too much and the anxiety may continue. Sometimes it develops into Separation Anxiety or Social/School Phobia
Red Flag, When to be worried
- If the symptoms within you or your child do not dissipate within six months
- If they interfere with everyday life, such as your child stops going to school, going out or stops clubs
- They develop lots of physical symptoms.
Ideas to support you and your child
- Always start early, if you know that your child may struggle with a new school transition. Arrange more visits to the nursery or school. Some children need many opportunities to feel safe. Always contact the SEN teacher and arrange a meeting. For older children, ensure that they have a friend they can go to school with. The older the child the more they will be influenced by their peers.
- If they suffer from separation anxiety, identify an adult ( attachment figures) they can meet and develop a relationship with prior to starting. It is not helpful if you are anxious to have multiple attachment figures.
- Have a plan, hug, goodbye, and handover to a teacher or if you are divorced plan the separation.
- Talk about what feelings they may have, even younger children need their feelings named and acknowledged.
- Help them to ask for help, who would be the best adult to talk too.
- Help the transition with a transitional object. Something of yours to keep if they are worried about being away from you. This is good for children whose parents separated or if they’ve lost a parent.
- Be aware of your feelings and talk through with a friend or get help if you are feeling overwhelmed
- Expect and plan for any transition to be successful-be positive and confident. Be realistic, transitions take time. Divorce is like a bereavement and can take up to two years to settle.
- If you know a big transition is coming, listen, plan and problem solve with your child.
- Make a picture book of positive separations in readiness for a new one.
- Talk about previous transitions and think about what worked and what you may do differently this time.
- Always give your child time to settle, make sure you are available to talk or play and don’t fill up your schedules.
These are general ideas, I will write another blog for preparation for nursery and school soon. You can follow me and like my page on Facebook too. If you are worried about your child then do contact me for a consultation. Please do contact me if you have any ideas on Blogs or workshops you would like, I would appreciate it. With Love Catherine