Families face many transitions, some quite substantial, although all can be disruptive and anxiety provoking. One of the hardest things for me to hear these days is “momma, no go work”. After being home about a week for spring break, I worried that my return to work might be even harder for my three year old sons (not to mention for me as well). Changes in routine can prove to be difficult for all of us, but especially for children. Below, I offer five tips for helping to ease these potentially challenging occasions for both you and your loved ones.
1. Explain transitions to your child
It’s never too early to practice explaining things to your children. As a psychologist, I teach communication skills often and this is so important in one’s home life as well. In addition to alleviating fears, it is well-established in child psychology that effective discipline must be accompanied by explanations. This is beneficial for many reasons: it helps children to learn moral reasoning (e.g., right from wrong), it teaches them to feel safe talking about “hard” topics with their caregivers, and it models good communication. I love when I overhear my boys working through similar problems. Recently, one of my sons wasn’t helping clean up and when we asked why, he responded “I’m kinda in a bad mood”.
2. Schedule some fun!
As a difficult transition approaches, it can be uplifting to also schedule something fun for shortly afterward. For example, we are planning a UConn party tonight to celebrate our favorite team’s Sweet Sixteen game. All my sons have to hear is “party” and that puts a smile on their faces. And so, as we remind them of my return to work, we also mention the fun that is ahead for us all.
3. Reframe difficult transitions
It’s so tempting to talk like my toddlers and say things like “bad, bad work” or “if you guys don’t cut it out, I’m going back to work now!” I stopped myself the other day as I was about to say the latter. They are soaking in everything and it’s important to reframe situations as (realistically) positively as possible. Here, I am trying to be mindful of not making work sound negative or like a punishment. And so, instead, I have been telling them all the good things about work.
4. Planning ahead
Avoidance is a common reaction to difficult situations. We’ve all sure been there. But, it rarely helps and oftentimes can be costly. Once you are aware of upcoming possible changes in your routine, purposeful planning can be instrumental in easing such transitions.
5. Focus on the positive for you too!
Last but not least, as a parent, you may not get much time to think about yourself. So many difficult situations come to mind here; returning to work after a leave, a favorite babysitter moving on, business trips, other separations from family members, etc. But, as I dreaded leaving my babies after a lovely week, it does help to think about the positive, like seeing my students, colleagues, and the excitement of spring on a college campus.