Living a Life of Transition with Children

Written by LP, an educational consultant for families living overseas and mom who moved internationally with children.

Global children are known for making more than one significant international move. In fact, as adults, they may recount that their lives were marked with continuous transition. Here are some tried and true tips for living a lifestyle of transition with Children. 

Transition Tips for Babies and Young Children

  1. As you know, young children pick up on your stressors and frustrations. Try to remain “calm, cool and collected” as you accomplish all the things on your list that must be done to get the family ready for the next transition. 
  2. You know that young children feel secure with routine and predictability. Provide plenty of time to hold them, read to them and just be with them. This will be challenging as you will be thinking about all of the things on your “to-do” list. Put spending time with your children as the number one priority on your list. When things are changing, they need more of you and more understanding from you as they have no idea why things are changing.  They just know they don’t like the change and need more of mom and dad. 
  3. Young children feel most secure with routine and familiarity in their environment. They value security items such as their bottle, pacifiers, “blankies”, special stuffed toys, etc.  This is NOT the time to make any changes that don’t have to be made. Keep the pacifier and bottle going. Don’t throw out the “ratty” old blanket thinking this is time to “clean house”. Believe me, you will regret it as these may seem like minor changes to you, but, become major changes in security sources, when their world is changing. Potty training should wait until you are in the new environment and the child is feeling at home.  Potty training and releasing security items will be much more positive when a child feels more settled and secure.

For Preschoolers to Early Elementary Children

  1. Young children learn about life through experiences. If they have never moved before, let them see and participate in the moving process. Let them help with the garage sale, packing of boxes and in every way possible. Talk to them in detail about the processes.  This will help them develop new vocabulary to explain and relate to the moving experience that you all are experiencing.  Role-play using puppets or dolls to rehearse “leaving” and saying “good-bye” in preparation for the upcoming move. This will go a long way in dealing with the emotions involved in leaving.
  2. Let them share their emotions, openly. They are feeling mixed emotions about what they are experiencing. They sense the excitement that something new is going to happen, but they are also realizing that they are losing special toys, familiar household items, friends and even extended family members such as dogs and grandparents. Empathize with them and put God’s perspective on the situation.  Saying something like, “I know we will miss our friends so much…  I will miss my friends, too… but, God will give us more friends and we will keep up with our friends here, as well.” This can be comforting to the child that is beginning to feel the “ouch” of loss.  Don’t be surprised if there is some emotional digression during transition.  Be patient when thumb-sucking or baby talk return or potty accidents re-occur in transition.
  3. Young children are growing in their natural developmental processes towards greater independence and autonomy.  It is very helpful to this natural process to allow them to have a sense of having control over some negotiable areas of their life – especially in transition.  While in transition, they will feel an overwhelming sense that life is out of control, with all the change that is happening. They will behave in ways that they believe will give them some of that control back in their life. Some of this behavior may present as tantrums, unreasonable demands, changes in sleep patterns, and other behaviors that may seem out of character for your child.  You may be able to alleviate some of these behaviors by allowing the child to feel that they do have a sense of control by giving them frequent choices in negotiable areas such as having a choice in brushing teeth before putting on pajamas or vice-versa.   Would they want to choose the purple or blue pajamas? These types of choices go a long way when they have no choice in other areas.   Allow them to pack what they would like to take with them on their journey in a backpack or a suitcase – whatever space you feel appropriate.  Let them choose what they will take with them.
  4. Help them say goodbye – well!  They need to get a sense of closure on this part of their life. You can help them by taking them to all of the places and people that have been a part of their life and help them to value the place and person by saying a verbal goodbye and  taking a picture of it and talking about it.  They can put their pictures in a photo album that they can easily look at anytime they are missing the people and places of their past.  Sometimes a goodbye walk is very helpful when leaving the neighborhood they have known. 
  5. Keep established routines and traditions as much as possible.  These family rituals are like glue when all else is changing.  Keep up with story-time before bed, no matter if you are in a hotel room or a new home.  Keep Friday night family night a priority if this has been your tradition.  These predictable “rituals” mean so much when going through change.  
  6. Read lots of books about moving as these books deal with feelings that a child will feel during a move and helps them to understand, beyond what their current experience will allow them to feel.  Discuss the feelings with them, appropriately. 

For Older Children

  1.  All of the above can apply to older children as well, particularly the need to feel secure and in control when their world is being changed so significantly.  
  2. Older children will feel a deeper sense of loss of peers, relationships and self-identity.  While change can be very exciting, they know experientially what it feels like to have close friend move away, a loss of a pet, etc.  They will need to talk a lot about their feelings. Don’t be surprised if they go through several periods of “pendulum emotions”. One day or minute they may HATE the thought of moving… then next, they can’t wait.  You will assist them through these emotional periods by listening, validating their feelings, empathizing and putting God’s perspective on the situation.  God understands as He left the throne and security of Heaven to come to us that we could know Him. If your child is more quiet about their feelings, sometimes they can journal or draw how the feel. The key is to keep them communicating openly with your about their feelings. 
  3. Kids this age need to justify significant life changes. Be sure to involve them from the beginning in the process as you work through your plan to move.  They will need you to help them see that they are very much a part of the family and the purpose of your move.  

Final Thoughts

  • Remember that as your children see you model transition well, they learn that transition is a natural life cycle that can be enjoyed for bringing a new dimension to life and character.
  • When moments are hard, empathize with your children. Be transparent. Let them know that some things are hard for you too, but remind them that “things will improve”.
  • Practice the “One A Day Principle” where each family member names something that was positive in their day.
  • New cultures, home, and experiences aren’t “good” or “bad”, just “different”.
  • Choose a family mindset of “adventure” in each new endeavor.

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