All of our lives are hectic – full of demands that create the need for swift evaluation of complex issues and equally swift changes in direction. Sometimes the changes are physical, sometimes mental, and other times emotional. Sometimes the changes are something that we were anticipating and other times we are caught completely by surprise. In either set of circumstances, as adults we have a variety of tools available to cope with rapid and difficult changes. We have the ability to recognize that we have successfully survived previous change point and transitions in our lives; and we have the confidence in our own skills to do so again.
Even when our coping skills are challenged by excessive amounts of change and stress, we know how to reach out to others for help. We have learned ways to reduce and relieve our stress even if those methods are temporary like taking a nap, a walk, or having lunch with a friend. What we may not think about is the complexity of the process involved in our development of these coping skills. And we may underestimate the impact of even a seemingly small change of routine for our children.
For anyone, change is something that disrupts our routine. A predictable routine helps to protect and preserve our sense of safety, security, confidence, and competence. The type of change our own ability to cope with it are factors that determine how disrupted our sense of routine becomes. And those factors also affect our ability to protect our children from unnecessary disruptions. Contrast these two events.
We walk outside one morning to retrieve our morning paper, only to find that it is not in the usual spot. We look everywhere and cannot find it. How are we effected? What do we do? How do we manage the situation?
Let’s say that we come hope after work that same evening to find that the locks on our house have been changed and a process server is there to serve us with divorce papers. Now how do we behave?
Clearly not all marriages end in divorce, but nearly half do. Many families experience the serious illness of a parent or a child. 1 in 3 adults will experience a bout of clinical depression sometime in their life. And all of us will lose a loved one to death or accident at some point.
Protecting quiet routines on a daily basis should be a high priority for parents. Routines that are for the soothing and comfort of the grown-ups and routines that are for the children are of equal importance. It is these quiet, dependable, daily routines that sooth and reassure us and our children through the ups and downs of life, whether big or small. Think about the quiet routines that sooth and reassure you on a daily basis. Make a list. Then do the same with your children.
If your child is too young to speak, watch and listen, and notice the rhythm of their day. Become conscious of the quiet routines that create a sense of security and safety in your lives and then honor them. This is easy to do when life flows predictably. So make your study at such a time, sot that you are prepared to protect those essential quiet routines when the very real anxieties of change are part of your daily life.
A daily shared meal or a bedtime story or a walk around the park or neighborhood are examples of quiet routines that can be preserved through all states and stages of family life. Remember that children’s ways of coping with change are very different from those of adults. In general, the younger the child, the smaller his or her world in terms of the daily landmarks they use to orient themselves and feel safe and secure.
You may be feeling a tremendous sense of disruption and upheaval because of a change in your family life. But be cautious about communicating that to your child. Practice self-restraint and check first to see how your child is doing. Stop, look, and listen are steps form own childhoods that have much to offer us at a time of transition. Remember that your child does not think in the same way you do, so don’t assume that because you feel overwhelmed your child will, too. In fact, children tend to very easily take on the feelings of the parent if the parent does not allow the child to have his or her own experience.