Supporting Young TCKs in Transition
Category: Missionary Kids
Transitions are often some of the most vulnerable times in our lives. This is especially true for young kids, who developmentally can’t yet imagine the future and what it could potentially look like. Change comes rushing in like a summer storm, having the potential of bringing with it either nourishment or chaos. How can we support young kids during transitions so that they are nourished by the rain, rather than left soaked and chilled?
Focus: Ages 2-6
1) Support Healthy Attachment
- Focus on helping your kids feel “Safe, Seen, Soothed, Secure” - I recommend reading “The Power of Showing Up” by Siegel and Bryson - see “refrigerator sheet” about these four S’s here
- Incorporate more nurture into each day with your kids – hugs, closeness, snuggles, holding them, etc. Due to the regressive tendencies of kids in transition, they may at times need more “babying” during this time, and that is ok. The extra nurture will promote healthy coping and confidence.
- Give them a bracelet, draw a heart/smiley on their hand, etc., and tell them that it is a reminder that you are thinking of them and missing them as you’re both going about your day.
- Incorporate regular read-aloud time as a whole family (kids don't have to be still for this either- they can paint, play with legos, do a puzzle, or draw while you read)
2) Create Stability/Structure with Playfulness
- Find routines that you can keep no matter what (a favorite stuffed animal goes with you in the car everywhere, you always have the same bedtime routine, etc.)
- Find ways to incorporate play into your daily routine – play is the way kids process their experiences and emotions, and also how they release stress. Get active, be silly, laugh, dance to music, play make-believe, etc. If you’d like to take this one step further, contact Claire to learn about non-directive play therapy. You can read about it here.
- Focus on the BIG play - running, wrestling with dad, sliding down the stairs on mattresses or pillows, big yoga balls, anything outside, trampoline, etc. – this is a way to get out not only energy but emotions too.
3) Talk About Expectations
- Give them real pictures of what the future could look like. One way you can do this is through “doll/stuffed animal role play”. With the help of stuffed animals, act out a future situation that your child is anxious about, e.g. the first day of a new school. Start by naming the stuffed animal after your child - they'll think this is silly! Walk through the event moment by moment and include details that will definitely happen (e.g."Hannah" walks into the coat room, takes off her shoes, hugs mommy, and walks into her classroom"). Make it realistic, but also fun and playful. End the story with the reunion of the child with her mommy or daddy.
- Try keeping a family calendar. A wall calendar is best—something that the kids can see on the wall, even if they can’t read it yet. Talk through it once a week or every day, so that kids know how many days it’s going to be until something happens. If you’d like to, you can also put stickers on this calendar or draw pictures that represent different things, e.g. a sticker for “visitors”, a sticker for “travel”, a sticker for “going to the park”.
4) Practice Empathy and Forgiveness
- Look into your child’s eyes and notice their body language for clues to what emotions they could be experiencing. After you’ve noticed what your child might be feeling, put the feeling word into a short response, generally beginning with “you,” (“you seem sad,” or “you’re really mad at me right now”). This empathy, along with a soft tone of voice, will help them feel seen and often calms their minds, so that you can then talk together about what’s going on under the surface.
- When our kids come home from preschool or any time that we as parents were not with them, it can help to consider what they experienced when they were away from us. Did they feel out of control? Were others unkind to them? Were they told "no" most of the time? Did they not understand the language spoken throughout the day? Did they miss us and now need our attention? Sometimes their emotions, impulsive behavior, or disobedience can be influenced by what happened during their day. Considering this can help us respond with compassion and gentleness.
- Make it a common practice to say “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness from your kids, especially during a time of transition. Acknowledge the “yuck” with them, especially if we, as parents, are creating the source of yuck due to our own stress.
- Give them 30-second bursts of your undivided attention. If you are on a call, say, “Can you hang on for 30 seconds? I’ll be right back.” Put the phone aside, bend down, and give your child undivided, focused attention for 30 seconds; then say, “I have to finish talking to ______.” Stand back up and continue talking with your friend. (Resources from Sue C. Bratton, Garry L. Landreth, Theresa Kellam, and Sandra R. Blackard.)
5) Process Emotions and Experiences Together
- One way to process emotions is to have a family tradition at the dinner table to share “highs and lows” of the day. A song would help younger kids! See here for a great song to sing for processing the highs and lows of the day.
- Have a story time each day - at dinner or bedtime, ask questions such as: what did you do today that was new? What was stressful? What was funny? What are you thankful for today? How did you feel when that happened? Who was kind to you today? Etc.
- Talk about emotions each day - you can use emotions charts like these ones: – boys’ emotions chart or girls’ emotions chart. (Laminate it, and you can use the same one over and over again.)
6) Give Your Kids Opportunities to Develop Agency
- Agency is the ability for kids to make choices and decisions that influence their surroundings and events. It is the ability to act and see the influence of those choices on the world around them—the capacity to act.
- TCKs spend a lot of their lives adapting to what is happening to them. This can become a strength, but it can also cause them to feel like victims of their circumstances. Whenever it’s wise and safe, give your kids a choice—this promotes their sense of self, their confidence, and, ultimately, their agency and resilience. Below are two examples of how you can encourage agency. In both examples, the word “choose” is important for the kids to hear:
- Giving a choice to obey or to experience consequences - you can choose to clean up your toys now (obedience) or you can choose to have these toys taken away for the day (consequence). Another example: Sam, I see you’re sad that we have to leave the park. Staying at the park longer isn’t one of the choices right now. You can choose to go down the slide one last time at the park before we leave (or any other option you feel comfortable with, e.g. you can choose to walk to the car, etc.) or you can choose for me to carry you to the car. Which do you choose?” (Pause—Sam says nothing.) “If you choose not to choose, you’re choosing for me to choose for you.” (Pause. Sam is quiet.) “I can tell that was a hard decision—I see you’ve chosen for me to choose for you.” (Example adapted from Sue C. Bratton, Garry L. Landreth, Theresa Kellam, and Sandra R. Blackard.)
- Giving choice for what to participate in – “You can choose—Daddy is going to the store, and I am going to stay home and talk with our new friend Sara. Would you like to go with Daddy or stay home with me?”, or “We can go to the playground and play with some new friends from church or we can go to the playground and you don’t need to talk to anyone new. What would you like to choose?”
7) Take Care of Yourself and Pray!
- Probably the biggest influencing factor on kids’ stress levels is their parents’ stress levels. Transition is a big deal. Be gentle with yourself! Take prayer walks to refresh your soul, make time for extra sleep, get some alone time here and there, eat meals with lots of fruits, vegetables, and proteins, and take a generally slower pace for the early days or months of transition. If you are calm and relaxed, that will make a big difference for your little kids.
- Bring your own worries and fears to the Lord in prayer, and invite your kids to join you in honesty before God. You can even pray something like this, “Father, I get scared sometimes too about all the things that are new right now. I thank you that you see us, and you are close.”
Extra tips from Trisha Wynn:
From my experience, Mondays (or any day back to routine after a conference or retreat or weekend) were extra hard on the kids. Our kids would have their biggest rebellions and total meltdowns going into their preschool on Mondays, right after we had been away from home, or when we had been out of our routine. It was helpful when I finally realized that it took them a few days (not just an afternoon or one day) to "recover" from a retreat or even a vacation. Also, after a home assignment or a conference, there would be sleep regression or potty training regression. You have to give them and yourself a boatload of grace and remember that it will get better!!
I was taking my kids to cafes before they could walk, and it's still a thing for us. It's one-on-one time, and it's a place where they are guaranteed a "special" treat. We found the one place in town that had "American" donuts, cake pops, fancy hot chocolate, or even a Coke because we rarely have that at home. So maybe putting a name to that special time makes it stand out for the kids too. We called it "Dude and Dad time" for years when my husband would take our son out. Nowadays I say, "Let's go on a date!" That equals a special food treat and playing cards at a coffee shop with me. That helps us stay connected and close, in the middle of whatever is going on.
Some kids’ books that might be helpful:
- “Swirly” by Sara Saunders
- “I Know Here” and “From There to Here” by Laurel Croza
- “A Fish Out of Water” by Hannah Flatman
- “The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas
- “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld
- “Ruby’s Worry” by Percival Rom
- “My Monster and Me” by Nadiya Hussain
Supporting TCKs during the transition of Home Assignment:
“Five Ways to Care for Missionary Kids on Home Assignment” by Claire Patty
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