Beginnings and endings are scattered throughout our lives but how do we navigate them and how can we support the children and young people in our lives when they are facing times of significant change?
We have all welcomed a brand-new year. We have seen endings and are now starting out afresh in 2022. A new and unknown year starting in uncertain times. During a year we see distinct changes in the natural world around us: The seasons bring changes in daylight, colours, weather and the trees, plants and flowers. There are smaller ongoing changes happening in our everyday lives such as the start and end of a day, the arrival of the weekend marking the passing of another week, and favourite TV programmes and social times with friends all come and go within an everyday context.
Change is often unavoidable
It is inevitable that children will experience change in their lives and some beginnings and endings will be trickier to navigate than others. Some children/young people experience traumatic and unexpected endings as part of their lives, such as fleeing from war and arriving in a new country as a refugee, or being removed from birth parent/s and placed into a foster family placement. These traumatic changes can result in the amygdala, (the fear detection system in the brain), becoming over stimulated, which impacts on the way these children/young people react to other beginnings and endings within their everyday lives. Seemingly everyday occurrences such as going to bed, or a last-minute change to a daily routine, may trigger fear based emotional reactions from a child who has previously experienced a traumatic ending.
Provide a secure base
As adults, we can support the children to process and emotionally navigate the everyday changes in life. This helps them to expand their window of tolerance and to share, express, identify and in time to manage their emotions, rather than feeling ambushed and overwhelmed by them.
Creating time to connect with a child or young person who is experiencing a change of some kind is an important way for them to feel heard, seen and to have their feelings acknowledged and accepted. Listening, being interested and curious in order to gain understanding, giving comfort such as physical contact e.g. a hug, wrapping a child in a warm blanket, making them their favourite warm drink, all communicate to the child that they are not alone and that there is a fully present adult who can support them with their overwhelming feelings.
Top tips for navigating everyday beginnings and endings:
- Maintain familiar routines e.g. stories at bedtimes, eating together at dinnertimes etc, especially throughout times of change. This provides some predictability and consistency in everyday life.
- Have a visual schedule on view – a simple calendar easily visible and mark in upcoming events. Check the schedule regularly with your child so you both are reminded of what is coming up.
- Give time to listen to how a child/young person feels about the beginnings and endings within their life e.g. the start of a new school, going away on holiday, a different walk to school etc. Ensure you have uninterrupted time to listen to their thoughts, hopes and any worries.
- Offer opportunities for connecting through play. Playing simple games during a week can soothe a child (and parent!) and create moments of fun and lightness. Try our Cards to Help You Connect (also available in standard Arabic) or visit our how to videos on You Tube with instructions and images of Theraplay based games that will help you connect through play.
- Have clear beginnings and endings to everyday games, chats, meals etc. A song, a familiar ritual or a light touch verbal comment can gently communicate an ending, such as “We’ve finished tea, lets clear up together playing Follow The Leader.”
Peppy Hills is a qualified play therapist who leads Project Salam at Beacon Family Services.