“You’re going to playschool”
Going to playschool is a big deal for little ones and the best way to help make the transition and adjustment period smoother and more comfortable for your child is through preparation, routine, predictability and consistency, says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Candice Cowen. “The run-up to the first day at school is important, so make it fun by reading books about playschool, discussing what it will be like and exploring how your child feels about it while explaining that it’s OK to be excited or nervous. Predictability is essential in a new environment, so do a playschool countdown so your child is aware of when she will be starting. You can also help to reduce any anxiety and uncomfortable feelings by being verbal and simplistic in clarifying what she can expect – who will drop her off, who will fetch her and when she will be fetched (after her snack or afternoon nap).”
“I wasn’t sure whether Kate was ready for playschool as she seemed so little. I discussed my concerns with the owner, who told me to bring her to the upcoming holiday club for a day or two. To my surprise, she loved it and actually cried when we had to leave! She came away with such a positive memory that every time we spoke about her going there, she referred to it as ‘my school’, which made it easier when it came to preparing her mind for the change.” – Jessica G
“You’re getting a little sister”
Your little one is going to face many changes when you fall pregnant again, says clinical psychologist Tylah Nunes. “These include assuming a new role within the family, adjusting to receiving less attention and bonding with a new sibling. It’s important to discuss the new arrival in a positive way such as, ‘Guess what? Mommy is having another baby, which means you’re going to have a baby sister! Isn’t that exciting?’ It is, however, normal for children to be distressed by the arrival of a new baby, so she needs to be allowed the time to adjust. If she’s finding it difficult to do so, or seems to be rejecting her new sibling, acknowledge her feelings and discuss why she may be feeling this way. Children should also be encouraged to interact with, and care for, their younger siblings. Praise her for her efforts while reassuring her about her importance within the family. You and your partner should ensure that you both still have quality time alone with her, too.”
Morgan was three-and-a-half years old when I found out I was pregnant with her sister. We made sure to include her in everything to do with the baby – from baby shopping to who would help with what when the baby was home.
We made Morgan feel important by asking for name suggestions and encouraged her to speak to the baby and feel her move. On the day Mackenzie was born, we kept Morgan’s daily routine the same, so she went to school. Granny fetched her and brought her to meet her new sister, which was special.
We’ve always let her hold her sister and she helps as much as possible. We’re careful not to tell her ‘Don’t do that’ and say ‘Gentle hands’ instead. Involving Morgan definitely helped her cope with the change.” – Cassey C
“Daddy doesn’t live here anymore”
Young children don’t have integrated ways of processing emotions, and deal with change differently to adults, explains Candice. “They usually find ‘complex’ emotions distressing and confusing, so divorce often results in displays of separation anxiety, tearfulness, fussiness, regressions, or changes in their sleeping and eating habits. Help your child by explaining in simple terms why Dad or Mom has moved out and highlight that your child is not to blame. For example, you could say, “Sometimes moms and dads fight and don’t get along, so they need some time apart. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love you or that we aren’t your mom and dad anymore.”
Explain that it will feel different at home and give examples by explaining that Dad won’t be there for bath time most nights, but that he will eat supper with, and bath, her when she visits him at his house. A ‘contact schedule’ on the fridge with stickers or colours so she can see which days of this week she’ll see Dad and when she’ll see Mom will also help her to deal with the change.”
“When my husband moved out of the family home, we were concerned about our two young boys, aged five and three at the time. There were many tears, clinginess, and acting out. We spoke to friends who’d experienced something similar with their divorce and they suggested that we read up about how to explain what was going on using ‘little-people language’. We started discussing the day-to-day changes like who would fetch them from school and who would put them to bed, instead of focussing on the concept of divorce – this helped to ease some of their insecurities and distress.” – Zeenah N
“Granny’s gone to heaven”
It’s important to prepare young children prior to a death – whether it’s a grandparent or a beloved pet – whenever possible, advises Tylah. “When explaining to your child that someone has died, or is likely to die, it’s necessary to do so using simple terms. For example: ‘I have some very sad news, Granny is very sick and she is going to die soon. Do you know what that means?’ Then let her ask questions and receive consolation whenever necessary. Remember that the younger your child, the less capable she may be of understanding and verbally expressing emotions – she will probably prefer to process feelings through activities like play. She may adopt coping mechanisms such as withdrawing or acting out, which is when you should explain to her that she is probably feeling sad because she misses Granny. Explain that you miss her too and that it’s OK to feel sad sometimes. Acknowledgement of negative emotions is healthy, and works best when followed by an activity to engage her attention. Allow her time to process her emotions, but if after six months she still seems to be grieving, play therapy is recommended.”
“My four-year-old asks for her Nana every day and wants to go to her house for a visit. My mother passed away three months ago and my daughter is devastated. She doesn’t seem to understand what has occurred and gets upset when I try to explain. What now seems to help whenever she’s weepy is to get her involved in doing something just for Nana, like saying a prayer, drawing a picture, or making a special object for her. We also keep telling her that although she won’t see her grandmother, Nana still loves her so she can still speak about Nana and do nice things for her.” – Sarah M
5 ways to help your child
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group suggests these steps to help your child cope on a daily basis:
- Prepare your child. Not speaking about an upcoming change can do more harm than good. Prepare your child by discussing the change that is about to happen, and reassure her about your love and presence, as well as all the things that will stay the same.
- Stick to a routine as much as possible. While some things obviously have to change, others don’t, and it’s important to ensure that your child’s whole world isn’t turned upside down.
- Allow an element of choice. Give your child some sense of control by allowing her to choose her clothes on the first day of playschool, a toy for her new baby brother’s room, or the time she gets to call Dad every day to tell him about her day.
- Give age-appropriate answers. Seek guidance from a professional or learn more through psycho-educational books or websites about responding to your child’s questions in appropriate ways. It’s vital that she is answered in a way that she can comprehend at her developmental stage.
- Help her grieve. Change often involves some kind of loss, and your child will need your help and your permission to mourn. Help her to put words to what she’s feeling and share some of your own sadness so she knows it’s OK to feel this way.
A freelance journalist and content writer with a passion for people and health. She has worked in the magazine industry for many years and is a regular contributor to Living and Loving.