Transitions for young children: how to not loose your cool!

Everyday we all deal with transitions. From the moment we wake up and the night changes into day, we have to 'transition' from being asleep to being awake, and prepare for the day. This small transition that we all take for granted and usually not think about, may be challenging for some kids. As parents, we may all know about the difficult days, when our kids do not want to get out of bed, and are not willing to get dressed, or do not want to have breakfast, while we feel pressured by time and have to leave. Why is it that our kids are just not collaborating? We then feel pressured about handling the difficult moment without enough time to pay attention to what is going on for our kids or for us. 


Every time we have to begin something new, like getting up and facing the day, we necessarily have to give up, let go, leave behind aspects of the previous experiences we were having. For example, your child may have been enjoying her bed and dreams, and she then has to get up and get ready. She may wonder why she needs to get ready. She may just want stay a little longer. You know there is no time, but as a matter of fact, children don't even think in terms of hours, days, weeks, and so forth. This is when you both may get frustrated, and you start dreading the possible melt down that you will have to deal with when you are starting to get late for work.


What we are actually asking from our kids in the beginning of a transition is to let go, to accept that they will not be in bed any longer. They have to move on. There is an immediate experience of loss in order to receive what is new and different. This is the first phase of any transition - dealing with the loss of what we leave behind. 


What follows is then a moment of 'in-between', chaotic moment in which we may not still be ready for the day, but we may not actually be sleeping anymore. These may be difficult moments for some kids. They may then resist, not wanting to get dressed, or to eat their breakfast, while going back to sleep is not an option any longer. When they finally accept that sleeping is over, and realize that there is sun outside and that they may want to play, they may be more willing to put their clothes and get ready. This is third phase of a transition, when the new is finally invited in, and we allow it to stay. At this point we may be more willing to change our old ways.


It may be helpful to try to observe transitions through this framework, unpacking the three phases, and thinking about what you and your child may need in each phase in order to move forward. It may be quite helpful to recognize each phase of the process while it is happening.  You may also want to try to reflect the losses and gains back to your child in order to make space for the full expression of her feelings. Create rituals, both for you and her, may also allow a gradual easying into what is coming next, being a useful tool to maintain predictability while making big feelings more manageable.

As you slow down, allow more space for the full range of feelings erupted during transitions, and take one step at a time, you may gradually be more able to keep your cool while transitioning into your day.

Mother's imagination during pregnancy

Being pregnant is portrayed as a joyful and happy experience all over the media. However, not a lot is said about the uncertainties and worries that also haunt new moms. Well, maybe some is said, mostly related to the concrete ways in which doctors and parents try to find out more about the unborn baby, like gender, illnesses, and so on. But how about the baby that the mother dreams about, and has dreamt about even before her pregnancy happened?


Having a baby is fulfilling an ancient promise, one that mothers may not be completely aware of. In this promise, there is always something about what she got and what she did not get from her parents, ways that she hopes to fix old wounds, ways in which she worries about what she may be given. Every baby is a gift from previous generations, an undreamt dream of ancestors that takes form throughout the mother's pregnancy. As the baby develops, the mother gradually finds vocabulary to interact, play and engage with it. The dream-baby gains a name, a form, a face in mom's imagination, and becomes more real as the pregnancy evolves.


What dreams moms have about their babies? This is the beauty and mystery of pregnancy. Those dreams are composites of emotional experiences, including the ones the mother lived as a baby herself. Ways in which she was cared for (or not), ways in which she was held and understood, and ways in which she was also dreamt about in her parents' minds. Baby-dreams reveal unique qualities of experience, and it is not uncommon for mothers to realize that being pregnant is as joyful as it is vulnerable. And yet, the precariousness of this experience is what allows mothers to prepare their minds and hearts to receive their newborn and invite them to stay.

Sibling relationships or how to unfreeze a Frozen heart

As I hear kids singing the Oscar winning song of the 2014 Disney movie, I wonder about what one needs to let go in order to manage and deal with the cold ghosts that haunt when one relates to one's siblings. Frozen is a story about sisters, but not only about the desired portrays of love, cooperation and support. It actually goes deeper. It is about the ways in which one has to face and come to terms with the ambivalence, pain, and possibly hate in order to have access and build a compassionate and collaborative relationship with a sibling. Sibling relationships are complex, and Elsa's character shows us how. As she struggles to manage her own magic, she ends up hurting her younger sister, which leads to her heart being frozen by fear. Fear of her own destructive powers, the ones she can't control and that get triggered when she is overwhelmed by anger and disappointment. She withdraws to protect herself and her sister from her rage, only to have to face it anyways later in her life. As for Anna, she is left with her longing and feeling of exclusion, growing up with a sense of being left out.


It makes me think about when a new baby arrives and the now 'big' sibling has to adapt, adjust, transition into sharing the space and the parents. Both exciting and extremely irritating, this new presence may gradually be experienced as an impingement. A lot is said about sibling rivalry and jealousy, and usually parents get stuck in how to promote and nurture a healthy relationship among their kids. It is somewhat disruptive to the family structure to contain and make sense of the kids' struggles with their own mixed feelings. Sometimes, parents can only acknowledge the loving and exciting experience of siblinghood, and have a difficult time recognizing and talking about its darkest sides. Denied of the possibility of integrating her ambivalent feelings, the big children, as Elsa, struggle to control their dark magic, which grows inside and becomes stronger. Kept behind doors, a secret grudge leads to uncontrollable spells of cold weather. Our Elsa-kids retreat and hide, as they are afraid of the power of their unspeakable feelings.


As the film evolves, we realize that only an act of true love can save Anna's life, after Elsa's frozen heart freezes also her sister's. Anna saves Elsa, who saves Anna with her tears of regret, and they come to realize there is space to Summer when the cold and dark winter of secret grudges can be seeing. The film ends when Elsa realizes that her frozen heart could be cured with love, which makes her magic under control. Is it then that love is the answer?


It seems like love is only possible when the mixed feelings and ambivalence of their relationship is finally faced. As Anna tries to deal with feeling disconnected, she reaches out and finally finds Elsa, without actually realizing that their broken relationship is what could cure her. As for Elsa, it is in her encountering her fears as she leaves the castle and let the cold take over. As she faces it, she is able to gradually find warmth. This is how Anna is not a threat anymore, and they can finally re-connect. Grudges and secrets are the real threats to healthy relationships, and all the ways in which we try to avoid our dark feelings makes us feel disconnected and lonely. They only become stronger, more powerful and out of control.


A lot for parents to think about in how to promote and facilitate good-enough sibling relationships. As Elsa can't hold it in anymore, she gets in touch with her own truth and begins a process of opening doors for a new world, in which she finds love in her sorrow and is able to keep a snowman alive in the Summer. Nice lesson for us, parents, on how to allow the space for our kids to let it go and come to terms with their own fears and struggles in order to find a way to feel connected with each other.