The Pixar film, Inside Out, follows the story of 11 year old Riley’s emotions after her family moves across country. Fear, anger, and disgust take over as Riley tries to navigate her new life in San Francisco. We can all relate to feelings of insecurity and isolation and the journey of Riley’s emotions is a great way to talk to your kids about feelings and change.
Life throws us all curveballs. How do we handle new challenges and how do we help our children through times of change? Blogger, author, and father Ben Reed shares his family’s story of transition and offers 4 tips for helping your kids through life’s transitions.
I never really intended to move my family across the country. Everything was safe and comfortable for us in middle TN. Our entire extended family lived within a couple of hours. Our relational connections outside of family ran deep through the rolling hills, making “home” really feel like “home.”
We knew the South. From the people, to the food, to the pace, to the language, we walked it, talked it, and ate it. Hook, line, and sinker.
We were so rooted and grounded that, on the surface and well below it, life in TN made total sense. We never wanted to leave.
What I’ve found in my life time and again, though, is that God loves to shake things up when I’m comfortable. Because faith doesn’t grow during times of comfort. Faith grows when we can’t navigate by our own intellect, our own experiences, or our current level of reliance on God. Disruptions force us to choose: are we going to cave in, and run back to what’s safe? Or are we going to lean in to a God who reminds us He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), that He’s got a plan that’s higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and that He intends to make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6)?
Despite our flesh, we jumped out into unknown waters.
We didn’t move to a 3rd world country. We didn’t even move out of the country. But we did pack our bags and move 2,000 miles from Nashville, TN to Orange County, CA.
One of the big issues my wife and I were cognizant of was our 2 kids transitioning. Well…we really didn’t give much thought to our 1-year old. She wasn’t quite old enough to understand the loss she was going to walk through. But our 5 year old? He was for sure.
Here are 4 lessons I’ve learned in transitioning kids through major life changes:
1. Give them security.
I want to let my kids know that anything and everything is ok for them to share with mom and dad. That they’re safe, from the standpoint that nothing they could do or say would ever change our love for them. In the midst of transition, we all need a feeling of safety. Just the other day, we found a box of my son’s stuffed animals. As we opened it, I saw something come alive in him. For him, they represented safety because they came from what he knew as safe: TN.
2. Make them feel special.
My wife and I go out of our way to make our son feel special. We did this before we moved, but are even more intentional about it now. We want him to know that he is specially loved. That while mom and dad love our new house, the new weather, our new friends, dad’s new job…we especially love him. In the midst of transition, kids need to know they’re valued. It’s easy to feel lost because mom and dad’s attention feels diverted to things it wasn’t diverted towards before. For a child, attentiveness denotes value.
3. Talk honestly about difficulties.
I want my kids to know that we’re all in transition. We’re all trying to figure out our new pace and routine. And that mom and dad have tough days, too. And that mom and dad miss our friends and family. And that some days are more difficult than others. In the midst of transition, kids need to know they’re not the only ones dealing with emotions and difficulties. “I’m not alone in this fight” is a powerful weapon.
4. Give them tools to cope and grow.
This is a part of giving children security, but it’s different. The other day, my son told me that he misses all of his friends back in TN, and that his new friends just aren’t the same. I listened, asked questions, then listened some more. After affirming his emotion, I had the chance to talk with him about how we make friends: by being proactive, seeking people out, being kind even when others haven’t earned it, and by inviting people to join you rather than just waiting on the sidelines in every activity.
In the midst of transition, kids need tools to cope and grow just like adults do. In fact, some of the tools they need are the same ones adults need. From “how to make friends” to “how to deal with change” to “why did God call us here,” tools to cope through transition will be important for the rest of their lives.
If you’re walking through life transition, don’t forget about your children. If your world’s getting turned upside down, so is theirs. And God wants to grow their faith through this as much as He wants to grow yours.
Ben Reed and his wife Laura live in Southern California with their two children, Rex, 6, and Gracie Kate, 21 months. Ben served for eight years as a Small Groups pastor at two churches in Nashville, TN, before joining the Small Groups Staff at Saddleback in the fall of 2014. Ben is the author of “Starting Small – The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint” and blogs regularly at BenReed.net.