Many children—and many adults, as well—handle challenges and transitions better when they have an advance notice about what’s coming. If they can see the challenge ahead, they can get a running start, so to speak, and it can make a really big difference in how smoothly things turn out. There are many reasons why this helps, but one big one is that our brains just simply work better when we are calm and peaceful.
I regularly advise parents to have “Heads’ Up” conversations with kids, about matters large and small. It’s an effective and loving way for parents to help kids stay in their highest selves, their most peaceful and cooperative and problem-solving selves. It also helps demonstrate to children that in a small but important way, their life is a safe and manageable one. Not everything in life will go their way, but they can be secure in knowing that scary or bad things aren’t always lurking around the corner, waiting to surprise them.
Some examples of things that children often respond better to when they have some advance warning:
• The end of TV time (or computer time, or a playdate, etc.) “In 5 more minutes, it will be time to turn it off.” (or “After this show is over…”)
• A new rule that the family is going to follow. For example, parents might tell their child that the family is going to start turning the TV off during meals, starting tomorrow. (or, starting with today’s dinner in 1 hour.)
• A change in schedule. For example: “We have always gone to the library on Tuesdays for storytime, but now it will be on Wednesdays.”
• A change in personnel. For example: getting a new babysitter or school teacher, or who is the person who picks the child up from xyz activity.
• A future disappointment. For example: “Honey, I know you were really looking forward to playing with Bridget tomorrow, but I just found out that she won’t be at the party.”
• Higher expectations. For example: “In the past, whenever you forgot your sports uniform at home, I would bring it to school for you. Starting tomorrow, if you forget it, I will not make a special trip and you will have to handle that with your coach.”
It’s important to note that knowing about transitions or bad news in advance doesn’t prevent sad or mad or worried feelings. Kids will still have their feelings. But, they will often have them in a more peaceful, appropriate location, with someone (you) who is ready for those feelings and more able to stay peaceful, compassionate, and supportive in the face of those feelings. And those little details can make a big different in the long run—for both a peaceful child and peaceful parent, and a loving and cooperative parent-child relationship.