No one really likes change, even positive change. Any transition causes stress, and improperly managed stress is a major factor in bad decisions, mental disorders, and physical illness.
Children, well aware of their own limited power and not yet having grasped the inevitability of change, are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and stress when the family faces:
At such times, you can get so busy dealing with your own stress that you have little energy left to reassure your children. Which often leads to worse stress problems that persist long after the original issue passes.
Here are some hints for coping yourself, while also helping your children feel secure.
If you’re short on friends and extended-family members not directly involved in the transition, look to a religious congregation, a formal support group, a social services agency, and/or someone you can pay to take maintenance duties off your hands. Don’t try to handle the stress and all your old responsibilities alone, even if you’re ashamed of whatever happened. You’ll be little help to anyone if you make yourself sick with anxiety and exhaustion.
Children often are ignored amid the adult-sized demands of major transition. Young minds frequently interpret this as “No one loves me anymore” or “This is all my fault.” Or, they start imagining horrible happenings far worse than the reality.
Whatever you’re struggling with personally, don’t push kids into the background (or delegate them to a caretaker) without explanation. If you have real doubts about your own ability to cope, get the whole family into professional counseling. Otherwise, take time to sit down with the kids and let them know what’s happening, what adjustments will be required, and how long it should last. Reassure them you’ll always love them, nothing is their fault, and you’ll be there for them when needed.
Then, reserve additional time every day to reinforce that reassurance by giving them your full attention. Also suggest ways they might help, but don’t saddle them with responsibilities beyond their age and experience.
While you definitely don’t want to ignore your children, neither should you ignore your own needs. If you do, you’ll break under the pressure and give the kids more to worry about.
Once or twice a week, take a two-hour break from your responsibilities. Leave the kids with someone you trust (churches and Red Cross centers can provide referrals), and indulge yourself in a long hot bath, a run on the beach, or a stroll in the park. In between these breaks, make sure you (and everyone else) get adequate sleep, exercise, and healthy food.
And remember, this too shall pass. Up to and continuing into that time, remind yourselves daily how blessed you are to have each other and the other good things in your lives.