Veering outside of a routine can mean big panic for little kids. Often the three biggest changes (a new house, a new school, and a new sibling) happen close to each other or within the same timeframe. While all life changes require an adjustment period at any age, here are the ways you can ease the transition before, during, and after these three specific changes.
Why It's a Big Deal Everything that was once familiar to your child is now a mystery: The bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen are all unknown territories and therefore scary.
Before A preschooler doesn't need much preparation, but you should tell elementary-age kids a few months in advance that you will soon be moving, says Scott Goldstein, M.D., a pediatrician at the Northwestern Children's Practice, in Chicago. "You can help your child collect email addresses to write to friends [or] maybe put a scrapbook together with pictures of friends and teachers from the old school," suggests Goldstein, who also moved last year from Chicago to the suburbs with his three children who were 8, 5, and 2 at the time.
During Let your child hold onto her favorite toy during the move so she has something familiar with her at all times. Put together a box of her necessities (pajamas, favorite books and toys, and anything she treasures), and unpack that box as soon as you arrive at the new house.
After Expect to have a few weeks of sleepless nights as your child gets used to the new rooms and the new house noises, Dr. Goldstein says. Also, remember that if you're stressed with unpacking and setting up the new home, your child will absorb the stress too, making her more likely to act out. "A little bit of patience goes a long way, but also don't let your kid walk all over you," he advises. "It is still important to have well-defined rules and expectations in your new home."
Why It's a Big Deal Welcoming a new sibling means your child, who got used to being an only child, will go from being the baby of the family to having a big-boy role, with all its inherent responsibility, says Cynthia MacGregor, author of "Why Do We Need Another Baby?"
Before Wait until he asks questions or notices your tummy growing before explaining that a new brother or sister will be arriving soon, MacGregor says. When he gets a sibling, he will become a super-important person: a big brother.
During On the day the baby is born, continue the theme of his being very important. Find small, simple, age-appropriate tasks he can do to help him feel involved, such as bringing you a fresh diaper, feeding the baby a bottle, or rubbing the baby's back.
After This transition period can take several weeks or even several months, depending on the child. Play to his sense of importance, and give him every reason to bond with the new baby, but make sure to also give him plenty of attention and reassurance. It is almost inevitable that, at some point, he will feel displaced, MacGregor says. "Children have mixed emotions about relinquishing the role of baby, as they want to assume a more big-kid role, yet they want to remain Mommy's special one," she says.
Why It's a Big Deal Starting a new school means new teachers, classmates, routines, and a new building to navigate, says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a Parents advisor and author of What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention Without Hitting Your Sister. Your child might also worry about practical issues, such as having a friend to sit with at lunch or having a nice teacher.
During On the first day, it's important to stay calm and optimistic, because children take cues from their parents. "You could emphasize that you're looking forward to hearing about all the fun things she does on her first day of school," Dr. Kennedy-Moore says.
After Your child is likely to be more tired than usual during the first few weeks of school, so it's probably a good idea to cut back on after-school activities for the initial month. After she has completed the first two to four weeks of the school year, she should settle into a more regular routine.
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