And the Best Parenting Strategies to Help Your Kid Deal With Each Crucial Milestone
Think life changes are just for adults? Think again. There are seven critical milestones kids go through as well that are considered "Major Childhood Moments" because they are so instrumental in our children's development. We just may not realize how important they are, and in some cases just how much stress they can cause our kids. A big part of parenting is guiding our kids through each life change so they can learn and grow from the experience. After all, childhood is really one big preparation for the real world.
So here are the 7 Big Life Changes for Kids and best parenting strategies for each crucial milestone to help your child.
Life Change 1: FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Key Childhood Emotion: Separation Anxiety
Let's face it. Having our kids go off to school for the first time is a tough parent moment. We realize our babies are no more and that umbilical cord has been severed. Of course each child is different, but saying goodbye can be a frightening experience for a child as well. It's adjusting to a new place, someone else's rules, worrying about using the bathroom, and getting along with other kids. It's natural for your child to feel a little anxious. Adjustment may take from a day to several weeks, so be patient and check in with the teacher. This experience really starts kids on the path towards independence and helps shape their ability to cope and handle life without us. It's all why the first day of school is considered the first big life change for kids.
Best Parenting Strategy: For a few weeks prior to the sendoff have him stay with a babysitter, grandparent or friend a little more than usual and create a private "goodbye" like a secret handshake or kiss. Take him for a school visit, but don't overhype it! On the actual sendoff day, stay positive and calm. Your child reacts to your cues. Start him on an activity like a puzzle or help him find a familiar face. Put a special pebble or keychain with your photo in his pocket and explain when he touches it it means you're thinking of him. Or give him a watch to wear and mark with a marking pen the exact time you'll pick him up. Keep goodbyes short and use that secret "goodbye" ritual, but don't linger! (It just increases anxiety). And be sure to pick him up when you said. If he cries when you pick him up take it as a compliment! It usually means he's delighted to see you, not that he hates school.
Life Change 2: FIRST FAILURE
Key Childhood Emotion: Dejection
Around the age of 6 or 7 kids begin to measure themselves in relation to other peers and discover they may not be as good (a soccer player, speller, runner, reader) as others. This is also the age when peer humiliation (along with disappointing a parent) become childhood fears, so failing in front of pals can be a huge ego blow. But failure is also a blessing in disguise and an important kid milestone. It's from those failures that kids learn how to deal with setbacks, and those experiences can actually increase their resilience, coping skills and self-esteem. Far too many kids don't realize that successful people don't let setbacks derail them: they just find new routes to success.
Best Parenting Strategy: Teach your child that mistakes are how we learn, and give your child permission to make them. When you make a mistake, tell your child not only what your mistake was but also what you learned from it. ("My mistake was...I learned...and next time I'll....") And from this moment on when your child errs, be accepting but offer support only when needed. If you always rescue your child from a mistake you rob your child from figuring out the problem alone and the confidence to try the next time.
Life Change 3: FIRST NIGHT AWAY FROM HOME
Key Childhood Emotion: Homesickness
Whether it's your child's first sleepover, weekend with Grandma or that summer camp experience, kids are bound to miss something about home-sweet-home. For many kids the idea of spending time away from everything that's familiar is scary and those pangs of homesickness can range from mild to almost debilitating. But a first night away is a milestone that prepares kids for eventually moving away and living on their own.
Best Parenting Strategy: There is no magic age when a child is ready to be away from home but three good tests are:
- Can she sleep in her own bed through the night?
- Does she have any problems separating from you?
- Does she want to do this?
Research shows what parents say beforehand to their kids makes a big difference on the intensity of homesickness so keep any of your concerns to yourself.
Life Change 4: FIRST MOVE
Key Childhood Emotion: Insecurity & Fear
Being uprooted is a major life changes that can be unsettling as well as frightening. This means far more than just fixing up a new bedroom but also changing schools, making new friends, joining a new team, playgroup, scout troop, let alone trying to fit in. It is quite normal for a child to display a range of emotions and even respond as though he's experiencing grief - especially two weeks before and two weeks after a move when the reality of the change is most likely to sink in. It sometimes takes a number of months for a child to adjust, but it also can help kids learn coping skills and friendship making.
Best Parenting Strategy: Focus on what you can do to make the transition smoother and anticipate your kid's concerns. Show photos of your new house. Go online with your kids to check out the new school and curriculum, soccer club, and even see an aerial view of your house and neighborhood and help her start to feel more settled even before the moving date. Find outlets for your kid that attracts peers. Remain as positive as possible. Remember: what makes a house a home is always the love shared inside.
Life Change 5: FIRST LOSS OF A LOVED ONE
Key Childhood Emotion: GRIEF
The death of a close loved one is one of the most stressful events that a youngster can ever face, and grief is one of the most intense emotions we can experience. How we respond is critical since it can have a powerful impact on our child's emotional health and outlook on life. Your child needs to learn that his emotions are normal. For some kids this is the first time they understand that death is a final, irreversible part of life and are now aware of the possibility of their own death. But this life change can help kids learn healthy ways to cope with grief and a positive sense of hope for the future.
Best Parenting Strategy: Children's understanding of death develops in stages, so it is crucial to know those stages so you can talk to your child about death at a level your child can grasp. Parenting techniques like always telling the truth, allowing a child to ask questions, suggesting positive outlets like planting a tree to honor the loved one help youngsters deal with loss. It often takes months for a child to recover from the loss of a parent. If you don't see a gradual diminishment of grief and it continues to affect her daily life seek help. If the loved one was close to you as well, make sure to take care of yourself as well, so you can deal with our own sorrow as well as help our child. The most difficult times for a child are often the anniversary of the death, during holidays, a school event or at times of other losses.
Life Change 6: FIRST LOVE
Key Childhood Emotion: REJECTION
Kids usually start "Pairing off" and being involved in more intense-type relationships around ages 12 and 13, though sometimes as early as fifth grade. Those first big crushes can be nerve-wracking as all get-out to parents. But first love relationships are like dress rehearsals for later intimacy. Those first relationships help adolescents learn crucial life lessons like empathy, respect, communication, compromise, sensitivity, sharing, as well as emotional growth. A lot more dating and maturing is needed before kids have those traits under their belt. Regardless of whether the relationship lasts or not (and the vast majority don't), first feelings are real, so a breakup can be quite painful to a girl (as well as to a boy). This is emotionally distressing stuff but new research shows that getting dumped at age 12 may feel even more emotionally devastating than at age 40. That's because kids don't yet have that inner stamina that helps them get through heartbreak.
Best Parenting Strategy: Don't dismiss your child's pain. Better to show a little empathy: "I'm so sorry...you must hurt." Ask questions and offer advice only if asked. Your lectures on why this one wasn't "Mr. Right" can be held for a later time. Right now just sympathize, show support and be available. While you're at it, hold the "You'll get over it" comment as well. You know she'll find another love and move on but your kid doesn't need to hear it right now.
Life Change 7: GRADUATION
Key Childhood Emotion: FEAR & ELATION
If ever there was an emotional roller coaster, high school graduation rules. It can be one of the most stressful or exhilarating times in a kid's life. There is test-taking, application filling, acceptance waiting, job searching, box packing and apartment finding. The reality of moving away from home is unsettling at best, but if your future is uncertain it can be darn frightening. This is the last big life change when our child is living under our roof. Realizing that our child's childhood is over is one of our toughest parenting moments.
Best Parenting Strategy: Letting go is going to be different than you expected and usually a far more emotionally charged experience than you realize. So be prepared. Sort out your emotions before your child leaves. He needs to know you will survive without him so don't pull your kid into this ("What am I going to do without you?"). Have those "big talks" (credit cards, phone bills, and safety concerns) before the moving day. On the actual moving day, take your teen's lead. This is the moment to switch your role from doer to guider. Say whatever wisdom you have to offer, whether it is, "I love you", "I'm behind you," "I'm proud of you" - kids do hold on to those words. Then as your teen drives off remember to look at the person he has become. Next time you see your child he will have changed: You will have lost a child and gained an adult.
The Navaho proverb says it best: "We raise our children to leave us." Your whole parenting has aimed for this moment. And a big part of your success is helping your child through these Seven Big Life Changes. So celebrate!
HOW TO KNOW WHEN TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR CHILD
We should always keep an eye on our kids, but especially during these seven big life changes. Use the "Too Much Worry Index" to help you gauge how your child is adjusting and whether you should seek help for your child:
- Too Different: Your child's behavior is too different from what is normal for him.
- Too Much: The problem has gone on too long or is too intense.
- Too Hard: Your child is struggling or hurting too much.
- Too Many: Other areas of your child's life are affected (school, friends, home, etc).
The best measure is always your instinct. So if your parenting radar says something is not right, GET HELP!