Change Is Inevitable: How Stories Can Help Children Handle It

I have a confession: when things don’t go the way I expect them to go, I kind of freak out. I get stressed, I can get angry, I think my brain even malfunctions a bit. It’s not a pretty sight. When something really huge unexpectedly happens – like when my first marriage ended – I cope much better than I do with the little, every day kind of changes. I go into battle mode with the big stuff and I get it handled. But the little things, like when plans have to change unexpectedly, really throw me for a loop.

For children, change can be overwhelming and even incredibly frightening if they don’t understand what’s going on. Adults often assume that children are too young to notice or comprehend the changes happening around them, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Children pick up on very subtle cues and while they may not be able to articulate what they sense, don’t doubt that they are aware and they are affected.

helping children with changeChange can be difficult for many people and there are myriad reasons why. For me, a lot of the difficulty has to do with my need for control which I think stems, in part, from my early childhood in which there was constant change and very little in the way of routine.

Nothing bad happened to me, this was just the way my parents lived in those days. Because of my personality, I eventually developed a coping mechanism of trying to prepare for everything that might possibly happen. Thus, my tendency now to lose it when something doesn’t happen the way I thought it would. It would be nice if I could teach my children a better way.

“Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives. As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes: walking to school by themselves, paying for a purchase at the store, going to sleepaway camp.” ~ Dr. Laura Markham

Routine is, or course, not possible 100% of the time. And there are times when change has to happen. Some of the most common questions I get from clients are ones about how to help their children navigate a change in routine like parents going on a vacation, a move to a new house and even changing behavior like how to fix a bedtime routine that’s gotten out of control.

One of the methods that I suggest often is using story books that parents make themselves. Stories help children make sense of their environment, their emotions and their behavior. With children of any age, but particularly children who are quite young, picture books help make any kind of lesson one is trying to teach much more concrete for them. Too many words can simply get confusing for them, but a few sentences combined with a picture really allows them to take in and understand the message.

You don’t need to be a great artist or writer to make these books and they don’t need to take a lot of time or cost much. The great thing about them is that you can really do them however you wish, in a very short amount of time and they will help your family immensely.

How To Make A Story Book

What is the book made of?

I have made books out of folded sheets of printer paper that I staple along the fold to mimic the idea of a bound book. I have made books on Shutterfly using photos and printed the book out. I have used a 3-ring binder and plastic inserts into which I slipped 8.5″ x 11″ paper. You can even buy blank books and fill the pages in like a sketch pad or a scrap book! It doesn’t matter what it looks like, just do what feels right for you. Do remember that your kids will love this book and want to see it and have you read it often, so don’t make it too precious.

But I can’t draw!

And it doesn’t matter. You can make stick figures, you can use photos, you can cut pictures from magazines. Your kids don’t care as long as they are in the book and you are reading it to them.

When do I read it to the kids?

Depending on the nature of the event you’re working with, I would slip the book into your regular reading ritual. For most people this means before bedtime or nap time. But feel free to read it whenever the kids ask about it or whenever you feel like they may need reminding.

Do I have to keep making new ones?

When it comes to something like sleep routines, you may want to try a binder with inserts only so that you can pull out one page that may not fit the bill anymore (say, for example, your children no longer sleep in cribs etc.) and insert an updated page without having to make an entirely new book.

Preparing Children For Upcoming Change

The arrival of a new baby, a move to a new home, moving from the crib into a big kid bed, parents going on a trip without the kids, starting a new school. All of these sorts of things are example of changes in your children’s lives which may come up and which may cause them some anxiety if they aren’t prepared for it. Additionally, creating a book about these events opens up a dialogue between parents and kids so that you can really begin to understand how they feel and they, in turn, get to experience their parents as people to whom they can turn when they have fears.

Obviously, every child is different and yours may be the type who goes with the flow easily, but even so, taking the time to carefully explain to them what new things are coming up will only help your kids. Use simple sentences they understand and try to get into their heads a little to figure out what might come up for them during whatever event you’re working on. Books about upcoming changes should include the following components:

favorite toysBe clear.

State, in a positive way, what the change is going to be. “Sometimes mommy and daddy go on a trip. When that happens, Aunt Lisa and Uncle Rich come to stay! Colin and Ben know that mommy and daddy always come back. This is a book about how much fun Colin and Ben will have when mommy and daddy go on their trip!”

Point out how special it will be for the child in question.

For example, in the case of moving to a new home you could highlight that the child will have a new room she can help decorate or that there is a big tree to climb in the yard. If parents are traveling, perhaps the kids are doing some special events while you are away which you can detail. “When mommy and daddy are away, Lilah and Sam will get to go swimming at Grandpa Jack’s house and eat ice cream in their pajamas!”

Remind the child of all the things that will be the same.

Children don’t have the experience to know that their whole lives won’t be turned upside down just because one thing is changing. In the case of a new baby brother or sister, you could remind your child that his bed will still be his own and that he will still have special mommy time every Thursday. In the example of moving from the nursery to a “big kid” room, you can remind your child that their nightlight will still be the same as will their favorite teddy bear. List as many things as you wish. “Even though you will be in a new room, you will still have Mr. Bear and your squishy pillow. Your sleeping music will be the same as it always was, too!”

Talk about everything that will be new.

Don’t shy away from bringing up that things will be different. Just frame it in a positive way. “At your new school there will be kids who love Ninjago as much as you do and they may be your new friends!” Children also want to know that what they feel is normal and they are OK for feeling that way: “You may sometimes feel jealous or mad when mommy is cuddling with your new sister. It’s OK to feel that way. If you do ever feel yucky about the new baby, come tell mommy or daddy and we can help you” or “You may miss mommy and daddy when we are away, but your favorite aunt, Lisa, will be here to cuddle with you so you can talk about mommy and daddy as much as you want.”

Go over their routine.

Even if this one thing is changing, much of their day will be the same. They will still have pancakes for breakfast, they will still ride in mommy’s car to school, they will still go to their favorite music class on Tuesdays, they will still have bath time before bed and daddy will still tuck them in. If you’re making about about being away from them, be sure to let them know who will be with them doing all of their routine (“Aunt Erika will give you your bath on Sunday night and put you to bed. Then, in the morning, she will drive you to school! You can show her where you go to school and maybe even introduce her to your friends!”) Again, knowing the routine brings comfort to children and allows them to feel safe. Finding a way to present things so it feels exciting, but reassuring, is what you want.

They have each other.

If you have more than one child who is experiencing the event in question, you can remind them of how much they love each other, how each of them will be there to help the others, how they can ask their siblings for help if they need it and so forth.

Bottom line.

In whatever way you want to get the point across: you are loved, we are taking care of you, you are safe, you can talk to us if you are worried and we respect you enough to know what is happening in our family.

Can Story Books Be Used For Changing Behaviors?

big hugsIn addition to helping kids navigate changes in their lives, these books are also extremely helpful when parents wish to make changes in routines or behaviors.

As I mentioned, we’ve used them successfully to work on our children’s sleep issues including early waking, repeated night waking, prolonging saying goodnight and more. I’ve also seen them used successfully for clients who had a lot of difficulty with their children around meal times, when a family had made a decision to cut back on how much screen time was being allowed in the home, for families who had lots of trouble getting their children dressed and out of the door in time for school and many other similar struggles.

I’m a big fan of making our own story books because they can be done quickly, inexpensively and you can tailor them to the exact event you are experiencing. Honestly, your kids will love them, no matter what they look like and if you are consistent about what you say you’re going to do (in terms of the ones you might make for behavior modification), they really do work.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever used anything like this or what you think about the method. And if you’re inspired to make one, let me know how it works out for you!

Separating Twins in School: What I Wish I Had Known

Have you ever heard that comment “I was a great parent until I became one”? I feel that way a bit about starting my kids in Kindergarten. I was a huge proponent of separating twins in school until I actually had to do it myself. Now I find myself longing for the simple days of preschool when they were in one, cozy classroom.

1st day kindergartenDon’t get me wrong. I am not changing my stance on separating multiples in school, I know it was the right thing to do for my children. I can tell already that they will be so much better off being in separate classrooms. But Mommy is having a hard time. Actually, mommy might be having a bit of a mental breakdown.

So, now that I have made it clear that I still believe that separating multiples is incredibly important for their personal growth, I want to add that I now also see how hard it can be on the parents! I have worked hard since my children were very young to ensure they had playdates on their own, time alone with mom or dad, separate groups in camp and even separate birthday parties. And I had always intended to separate the kids once they started Kindergarten. The thing is, even though it was the right decision for us, I wasn’t completely prepared for all that came with this move.

When Togetherness Keeps Twins From Growing

I get a lot of email from readers asking whether they should keep their twins together because they love playing together and get along so well. As with everything else, I have my opinions, but my advice is that you know your children best so you have to do what is right for your family. However, it is also very easy to miss the signs that your children need more time apart from each other.

I see now that one of the reasons my daughter always played with the boys in preschool isn’t just that she enjoys “boy-oriented activities” like climbing, digging and building. I believe that because her brother makes friends so easily, she could just blend right in and be part of an already formed group.

With him around, she didn’t have to work on the skill of opening up, making contact, finding ways to connect to other kids in order to make friends. This skill doesn’t come as naturally to her as it does to her brother but she needs a chance to have to work that muscle without the comfort of having him by her side. But with the help of “Emotionally Healthy Twins” from Dr. Joan Friedman.

  • friedmanbookMaybe you have a twin that is a little more introverted and allows his sister to do all the talking for both of them.
  • Maybe one of your twins is less assertive than the other and always gets second choice of toys or has to follow her sister’s rules when playing games.
  • Maybe one of your multiples is less good at sports and always compares himself negatively to his brother or doesn’t even try because he’s decided he’s not “the athletic one”.
  • Maybe one of your kids is excelling in reading or math and feels guilty because her brother isn’t.
  • Maybe your twins are so close to each other that they don’t let anyone else in to their friendship.

These are just a few of the excellent reasons to give your multiples time apart in the classroom. Separating them allows them to look at themselves without the obvious comparison to their co-twin. Yes, it can be hard especially if this is the first time they’ve been apart from each other. If yours are still too young for school, I highly suggest getting some one on one time now so that when it does come time for them to be apart, it feels more natural to them.

Please know that giving your children all this time on their own will not cause them to drift apart from each other. In fact, it will actually bring them closer. My children climb into the car after school and turn to each other to ask “what did you do in school today?”. The time apart gives them things to talk about which allows them to get to know each other as individuals and not simply assume that the other has had the same emotional experience as they have had themselves. Celebrating and encouraging their “twinship” is a wonderful thing to do. But don’t make the fact that they are twins (or triplets etc.) become more important than the fact that they are also individual people.

What I Wish I Had Known…

family portraitSo now that you have arrived at the point where you have your children enrolled in two separate classrooms, you may have realized that this also means that you are a parent in two classrooms. Uh…yeah. How did that fact escape me? What that means is:

  • You will be asked to volunteer in two classrooms. This isn’t a big deal for those of you who can’t volunteer because of work commitments or who aren’t interested in doing it. But for someone like me that actually loves doing it and who finds that it is a wonderful way to know the school and the teachers and be involved with what is going on with your children’s classrooms, one has to be careful of not taking on too much responsibility and getting overwhelmed.
  • You will receive massive amounts of email communication from two classrooms and they may not all be sent at the same time. This means if Class “A” asks you to get a dozen pens, a tote bag and a folder for your son’s class and you go to get it all, you may find that a week later Class “B” asks for almost the same thing and you have to go back out to get all the same stuff again instead of making one trip. Guess who had to do that? Yep.
  • Your two classrooms may not have exactly the same expectations or rules. That is, one class may have a specific policy about the way birthdays are celebrated or whether sugary snacks are allowed. These sorts of things are not always school-wide policies. So not only will you have to remember that class “A” allows parents and extended family in to celebrate, but also that Class “B” does not allow any of that. This means that not only will you have to keep straight which rule belongs to which class, but you may have to explain to one child why his sister got to have her grandma in class but he didn’t. This can be a learning experience for the kids or it can be an additional headache for mom and dad. Or both.
  • Your two classrooms will have different projects going on that may have different deadlines and different requests. You will be expected to keep all of it straight. Class “A” has photo day on Wednesday, don’t forget to bring in the form and a check. Class “B” is doing a project with apples this week, don’t forget to bring an apple in on Monday. Class “B” has photo day on Tuesday, don’t forget to bring in the form and a check. Class “A” has reading time with parents on Monday, but so does Class “B”. How do I manage to be in two places at once??? And which check goes with which form? Arrrgh.
  • Dropping off two children to two different classes is not as easy as it looks. Well, especially if you have at least one child who doesn’t separate easily from you. And especially if there is a very small window of time between the classroom doors opening and the bell ringing for the beginning of the school day.
  • Your children may have some jealousy about what the other sibling is doing in their class. “Why does she get to play on the computer in her class, but my class never does”? Or, “Why did his class get to bake apple pie but mine didn’t”?
  • Getting an update about two classrooms is somehow exponentially harder than it was for one. My kids can’t remember what they did except for lunch and yard time and they don’t have the other child to prompt them! You think you didn’t know anything before about what was going on at school? Now you know less! Oh, and on top of it, the class schedules change every day in each class so good luck remembering who has what class on what day!
  • There are a LOT of names to remember! At our school, our children are in a K – 1 classroom which means that there are about 25 kids in each class. That’s 50 kids total which means about 100 parents to try to get to know. It’s basically impossible, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t trying to do it! Or is that just me? Also, at least in the first few months there are a lot of social invitations to try to get the kids and parents to get to know each other. Again, it can get a bit overwhelming to keep straight and to make time for it all.

So, how do you not lose your mind?

Well, I am definitely open to suggestions because we are only a few weeks into it, but here is what I have come up with so far:

Go easy on yourself.

Recognize if you are the type of person who is used to being “supermom” (or dad) or being able to juggle 20 things at once. Be aware if you are the type of person who generally thrives on this type of thing. Even if you did all of that in preschool, this is a whole new animal. I was the mom who volunteered for everything at preschool and was able to simultaneously run my local twins club, have time for blogging, have time for my family, even squeeze in time for myself.

But perhaps you noticed how I haven’t blogged in over a month? And I also stepped down as president of my club. I have had to clear some space for myself to get used to this new environment. I am starting slowly with volunteering. I am doing this so that I can feel calm and stress free because I know this will rub off on my kids. In time I may step it up a notch if I feel I can do it, but for now, I am OK with slowing down.

Get organized.

Do whatever works for you to be super organized. Put everything in your computer’s calendar (make sure it’s synced to your phone), get a huge wall calendar or white board and use different colored pens for each child’s activities and events, make a binder for each child…whatever it takes, set it up until you feel like you know what’s going on at school on a regular basis.

Talk to other parents of twins.

Ask at the school if they might connect you with other parents of multiples at the school who have already been through the process and who can give you some helpful tips. This is the probably the best place to ask because they have direct experience at your specific school.

Being in two places at once.

If your children have events on the same day, and it’s appropriate, ask if the sibling can join in. For example, my children both have a special reading time with a parent and it happens to fall on a Monday for each of them. I could, of course, just take turns but with this type of event I found it simpler to ask the teachers if it was ok to let my son be in his sister’s class so I could read to them both. The following week we do the same in his class with all three of us. Fortunately, they each get their own day as well where they don’t have to share. Don’t stress out, you never know what’s possible if you don’t ask.

It’s OK to be jealous.

Remind your child that they are supposed to feel jealous when someone else gets something they wanted. It’s normal to feel that way. Empathize. If it’s simply that one class has already had their library day and that’s why Sarah took home cool, new books, then ask Jack’s teacher when his library day is so he knows he’s getting one as well. The teachers from Class “A” definitely aren’t thinking about what Class “B” is doing…they are only paying attention to their own classrooms!

Another awesome use for smart phones.

I’ve started snapping a picture on my phone of each of my children’s class schedule since it’s posted on the wall in the classroom. This way I have a reference for after school so I can look at the photo and ask specifically, “how as Spanish class today? What did you do?”

My son’s teacher is actually great about helping parents get information from the kids and has sent home an email each week with question prompts like, “What is the alphabet project you began this week?” or “How do you celebrate Birthday Circles?” which gives parents a peek into what the kids have done all week. If your child’s teacher doesn’t do this, you could ask if it is something they would have time for, or ask if writing up a list of questions is something someone can volunteer for.

Don’t compare.

This is a rule I always tell people about helping their children, but it also applies to us parents. Don’t compare your day to how simple everything was for your friend who has three kids. If her kids aren’t triplets, it most likely was simpler! Her older children have generally already been at the school for a bit and have friends, know their way around and so on. Mom or dad can go to their class, check the child in, say goodbye and actually leave. This isn’t so easy with two (or three) 5 year olds who are brand new at a school!

Separation Anxiety.

My daughter has an exceptionally hard time separating from me. I like to think this is because I am so awesome, but more likely it has to do with a level of anxiety she has been dealing with for the last 2 years. This of course makes morning drop off excruciating at times. At our school, what I have found is helping us the most is that our daughter’s classroom opens up early, so the three of us can go in together, read, and settle in a bit. Then I take my son to his classroom and do the same with him. At this stage our daughter wants to come along, which is little hard, but I am hoping that as she finds real friends and is more at ease at school, I will be able to say goodbye to her at her class door.

separation anxiety

Although it’s hard for me to get out of the house early enough to be able to be at school 15 minutes earlier, it’s well worth it in terms of easing her anxiety levels. In fact, getting to school a little early is probably the best tip I can give anyone because, let’s face it, who likes to rush in to a meeting to find everyone already sitting down and all heads swivel to you as you rush in the door? Not me. And definitely not your kids. Give them those few minutes of playing on the yard or sitting on your lap outside the class to ease in to saying goodbye for the day.

One thing I noticed right away is how suddenly small my children looked to me again. They were “the big kids” all year last year at preschool and now they once again look like babies. After all, they are only 5 1/2! I have to remember this and enjoy the time. Everything has been a whirlwind this past month and I do want to stop and take it all in. My babies are Kindergarteners. I will never have these precious moments again…even if I do, occasionally, feel overwhelmed by it all.

We’re heading into week 3 and I am sure I have a lot to learn about being a parent of elementary school children, but this is what I have figured out so far. Let me know if you have other things you’re struggling with, or what you have worked out for yourself! I always love to hear your ideas.

Oh, and please forgive me the very long break in between posts. August and September were exceptionally hard around here and I just couldn’t find the mental energy. I look forward to getting back on a regular schedule. There are lots of things I want to write about!

The Great Parenting Show Is Back!

There are so many reasons why parenting can be a daunting job. Most of us have endless questions about how we can feel less stressed and overwhelmed, what we can do to help our children grow up to feel self-confient and secure, or how to communicate successfully with our partners.

I’m excited to say that there are some answers for you just around the corner! The terrific program, The Great Parenting Show, is about to start its 5th season on Tuesday, September 4th.

Once again, Jacqueline Green has invited over 25 leading experts in parenting related fields to share their wisdom, humor, and more importantly, their TIPS, on just how to make the changes you want to make and become the parent you want to be.

And the best part of it is that this is absolutely FREE.

Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?

Here are just a few excerpts from the testimonials that Jacqueline has received from previous shows:

“I love your variety of educators…. Your show included everything from Feng Shui to brain research, marriage and sex to preschool, nutrition to psychology. It highlighted the breadth of education available to and, dare I say it, necessary to raise healthy, happy adults.” ~ Cara – Billings, MT

“I had no idea what a wonderful journey I was in for, how much I would learn and be changed by listening to your show! It has been a blessing. Thank you!” ~ Jessica – Alaska

“First of all, thank you thank you thank you! I’m a mother of a five months old baby girl, and since her arrival had started spiralling down into a cycle of fear of failing as a mother, how to protect our daughter from all that horrible stuff out there without oppressing her with rigidity and closed mindedness, fear that my daughter won’t love me, insomnia, and and and. . . . Your show has really helped me remember who I am and that things ARE going to be ok.” ~ Iman – Pakistan

The Great Parenting Show begins this Tuesday, September 4th at 10am PT10am/1pm ET and 5 pm GMT. One of the things that I love about this show (besides the fact that it’s FREE) is that the calls are recorded so even if you can’t make it live, you can listen for a limited time at your leisure. Additionally, you have the option to buy the recordings so you can go back and listen as many times as you want!

  • Here are some of the questions you’ll find answers to from The Great Parenting Show this season:
  • Is it possible to discipline my child without ruining his or her self-esteem?
  • How do I help my child be successful, both academically and socially?
  • Can I get quick and easy nutritious meals on the table?
  • How do I protect my children from the dangers of cyberspace?
  • How do I teach my children the skills they need to avoid bullying, and to stand up when they see it happening?
  • Can I teach my children about money and responsibility?

The experts included have always been excellent, and this time I am sure it will be no different. Here are just a few of the speakers you will be hearing from which include a few of my long time favorites:

  • Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting and the author of the upcoming book, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting”
  • Dr. John Gray, best-selling author of the famous “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus” book series
  • Hal Runkel, best-selling author of “Scream Free Parenting” and “Scream Free Marriage”,
  • Dr. Bruce Lipton, the author of “The Biology of Belief”
  • Tana Amen, the Brain Doctor’s Wife, talking about you how to raise brain healthy kids

…And so many more.

You really don’t want to miss this opportunity to hear these speakers. SPACE IS LIMITED, so register now.

After you register, keep an eye out for Jacqueline’s email with your details for listening in on the calls.

And let me know what you think about the speakers, I’m always interested to hear your feedback!