Having outside outlets for our feelings can keep us from using our children inappropriately as confidants. Expressing our feelings elsewhere can enable us be more thoughtful about the sharing we do with our children. You can say things like: "I'm sad about Grandpa dying. I miss him. I think about the way we all picked apples together. After a while, I won't cry so much anymore." This shows your children you're human, reassures them, and also gives them the room to express the things they miss about Grandpa, too.
- Differentiate your concerns from those of your children. Adults think differently about life changes than children. Adults think in broad terms and are able to make long-term projections. Children primarily want to know how the change is going to affect them right now.
- Reassure your children about what will happen to them. Children interpret experiences in terms of themselves. They ask questions like, "Will that happen to me?" "Who is going to take care of me?" or "Where will I sleep?" Respond to children's concerns by giving concrete answers: "While Mommy is taking care of Nana, Vivian from next door will take care of you. She will make your meals and read you your stories. She will help you find clean clothes to wear."
- Use the situation as an opportunity for teaching. In dealing with inevitable life crises, you have the opportunity to teach your children about the healthy expression of feelings, about the positive aspects of change, and about the human capacity to persevere and continue loving through hard times. Dealing constructively with the disequilibrium caused by changes in the family, even stressful ones, can provide important lessons for children which they can call on throughout their lives.
Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years, by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser (Publisher: Broadway Books; $20.00; Paperback; ISBN: 0553067508). Copyright © 1997 by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.