Monday, 27 November 2017

A New Year - Are you moving house? Keeping a lid on anxiety

Leading up to the end of the year some of us find ourselves having to move house. As renters, we often had to suddenly move at the end of the year, right at Christmas time!

Kids and moving - why is it such an upheaval?
I was always an anxious kid and we moved a LOT. I attended 11 schools in 12 years. For the 'average' child who doesn't suffer overtly and consistently with anxiety, moving this much would be a bit of a trial, but they would settle into the new environment and make friends pretty quickly. But some of us weren't that lucky. As a child, my anxiety manifested in different ways. Sometimes I got angry at the lack of control over my life. At other times I was so overwhelmed I hid in my room for hours or wandered around in the bush for hours, alone with my thoughts, and the dog. At other times I'd burst into tears suddenly or weep privately at night in my bed, struggling to get to sleep.

Anxious kids are all different in their little quirky ways but they all have one thing in common - circumstances, for whatever reason, become overwhelming and they aren't equipped emotionally to deal with it in a practical, sensible, calm manner.

So how do we help?
Routines are so important to anxious kids. Not that you want your child totally dependent upon having things run smoothly and predictably all the time. But you can make their life so much easier by making what is able to be managed stay pretty much the same, most of the time. Have mealtimes and bedtime at the same time each day. Expect your child to get up at the same time each morning and be ready for school at the appropriate time. Your child should also have the same chores each day. Responsibility and predictability go hand in hand. A child soon learns that the dog/cat/chickens need breakfast too. Make sure you continue to read a story to them at night, even when you're dog tired from packing and organising.

The rest of the time your child needs to learn to adapt to the situation and be flexible in their thinking. We can make lots of plans, trying to think of every possible outcome and put contingencies in place for perceived disasters, but in the end, we all must find ways to cope, because life isn't orderly. Its chaotic and unpredictable.

The talk
Just saying this to your child won't work. You need examples. So before you have the conversation, jot down some family stories, or your own experiences or preferably your child's experiences, to help get the message across. For instance, I asked my daughter if she thought a friend's three year old would understand the things she, at ten years, would. Of course she replied emphatically, 'NO!' and looked at me like I had gone mad, right there in front of her. And so I was able to explain that my life experience meant I understood things she wasn't able to understand yet.

A visual chart - properly displayed
In our house we use the calendar a lot. I photocopy two months, the current one and the next, and put them up on the fridge. This way we all know what is happening. Everyone fills in the relevant information about events, appointments etc. This way we all know what is coming up and can be prepared for it, practically and emotionally. So a visual chart of some kind is very helpful.

So what's this got to do with moving house?
Moving, relocating, is a huge upheaval in your family life. Just close your eyes and imagine all the boxes you will have to pack, the junk you have accumulated all these years,the cost of the moving van etc. Feeling panicky? So keep it organised and teach your child how to organise themselves. Lists are great. My daughter now writes her own whenever she is going somewhere like a sleepover, day trip or school camp. Having a list takes the anxiety down by many notches. Start writing the moving house list weeks before the moving day so your child can add items to it as they go. They are less likely to forget something this way!

So, some tips:
  • with your child, make a list of clothes and toys no longer wanted to be donated to charity
  • a list of items definitely needed immediately on moving day (PJs, toothbrush, clothes for the next few days, favourite toys, books, pillow and bedding, etc)
  • a calendar to show how many days left
  • a special treat that happens the night before
  • a new responsibility, to show they are ready, grown up a little more, have your confidence, such as helping you pack the laundry stuff, getting things from cupboards etc.
  • show your child HOW to pack a box properly. Let them pack their own stuff.
  • discussions about what is scary about moving and what is super fun about moving
  • if possible, driving to look at new house, or on google maps and satellite photos
  • google the new school and look at photos of it, learn the name of the principal and deputy
  • google local attractions such as the pool, library, skate park, shops etc.
  • write letters/cards to best friends giving them the new address details
  • choose something new for the new place, such as a colour to paint the bedroom or a new school bag or lunch box or some item of clothing they need
  • encourage your child to keep a journal and write down their thoughts. They may need some help getting started
  • take photos of everything they love about the old place and put it in a special book or album to take with them and treasure. Take photos of friends too. 
  • on moving day, let them play in spare boxes 
  • have an emergency moving day package, with coloured pencils, books, audio stories to sit and listen to (or just use its free!) a yummy HEALTHY snack, etc.
  • start a new reading book the first night at the new place
I'm sure you could come up with loads more ideas too! The main thing is to treat this new chapter like an adventure that is manageable, not too exciting, not overwhelming. Be prepared for tears and outbursts. Its normal for any child to be afraid of the unknown. They will need you even more than usual, so be patient.

My book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety is packed with practical and easy ideas for kids and parents to make anxiety manageable. We want our kids to be resilient, to survive out in the world on their own some day and be confident adults fulfilling their potential. It all begins with the simple things we do in times of change in their lives.

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