Parental Survival Toolbox

Guiding Your Child’s Transitions

By Barbara Wofsy, Student Assistance/Crisis Counselor for Mt. Pleasant Elementary, Mt. Pleasant Middle School, and Heritage Middle School with the Livingston Board of Education

The term, transition, essentially is a movement from one point in time to another. Typically, most of us identify transition points in our family life in terms of the developmental “milestones” and the “abilities” that accompany them: birth…starting school…middle school…high school…higher education…starting careers…engagement/marriage. For the most part, these transition points are predictable and the “action plan” for each is mapped out, therefore, the locus of control generally is with the family members.

I believe that one of the most important tools we can equip our youth with today is the ability to adapt to, and manage, the changes that occur around them with a greater sense of awareness. Over the years, experts have recognized the impact of additional changes that children are exposed to: death, illness, divorce, remarriage, birth of siblings, the ups and downs of friendship, siblings leaving home, hormonal changes, impact of injuries, moving, etc.

Changing World

Currently, we are aware of national and international events that impose yet another major transition for our youth to move through. These are changing times politically, socially, and spiritually…and once again the locus of control is shifting into unknown territories. A child’s ability to adapt in the social arena expands from a world of family to a world of peers, school, and politics (domestic and international). With this exposure they will encounter comparisons and judgments.

I have had parents say to me, “How can I help my child move through this when I am so fearful of these changing times myself?” - an expression of fear and helplessness. The reality is that all people are experiencing varying degrees of fear, but many are pretending not to be. I read in an article recently about the need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”…”live your life” is what this meant to me.

Ideas to Consider

The good news is that you can assist your child’s development and equip their toolbox in terms of life skills in an interdependent world. How does this apply in today’s climate? I want to suggest a few ideas that I think families can reinforce or begin to consider:

  • Expressing worries is a helpful coping strategy in itself because there is then the opportunity to problem solve perhaps on an aspect you CAN have control over.
  • As your children move through the middle school years, encourage them to be critical media consumers by having some discussions about the media…this can help them cope with what they see and hear.
  • Exposing them to a variety of people and cultural experiences gives them a chance to develop a tolerance and acceptance of differences in themselves and others. This is vital to successful social relationships throughout school life.
  • Having a routine and structure is important in everyday life, and especially during times of crisis/trauma…it is reassuring to the self and restores a sense of outer and inner safety.
  • Parents begin to teach their children about the rules of safety when they are very young – expanding this with how people are protected in their communities via police and parent groups, and in this country by the President and his team of people who meet with world leaders helps to provide a greater framework of safety.
  • Families need to participate in community events and community support systems that their community does offer – being a pro-active participant shows your children that they don’t have to do it all alone and that there “are” resources of support that service a sense of community and well being.
  • Gift giving should always include the idea of celebration and love – teaching them that gifts should be meaningful, sentimental, and cost effective. You may write a beautiful letter, make a treasure box, place some meaningful pictures in a photo album, and/or create a video or audiotape with loving messages. You can even make this kind of gift giving a “family agreement” for 1 year, and agree to evaluate this as a family at the end of that same year. This kind of agreement can foster wonderful discussions of how families connect and perhaps generate new ideas/values/norms for you family.

In my work with families, I have witnessed parents and children refer to this concept around major celebrations when there are “budget concerns”. Consequently, the spoken or unspoken message to their child risks getting relayed in terms of their gift being a “compromised” gift because of monies available. Incorporating community service learning into your family life as a “family” is also a wonderful way of demonstrating the notion of “giving” and “receiving”. There is a quote that pops up in different arenas, “giving is receiving”. My impression is that gift giving has become a bit expensive, competitive, elaborate, and even received with a sense of “entitlement” at times in families…we need to get back to the basics in demonstrating and appreciating what “thoughtful” means. When your child says, “thank you… I love it… it is just what I wanted”, you can experience a sense of enrichment and a deeper smile in their eyes when you sense they are getting the gift of giving and receiving over time. There are teachable moments like this to assist “transition” points in the lives of children and teens as they expand their social networks. I want to encourage you to help your child(ren) wrestle with this concept a bitmore to a place of appreciating and applying this concept even more.

These are just some of my thoughts which I am sure are not unique. There are two wonderful children’s books that I wish families might read together regardless of their age…actually, I have given these book as gifts to graduating seniors in high school: All The Places You Will Go, by Dr. Suess and Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus.

In order for you and your child(ren) to continue to grow and succeed, I encourage you to utilize all of the available school and community resources.