Fish out of water or Duck to water?

We’re nearly into September and for me that signals the beginning of lots of new things. I love that feeling, like anything could happen, but young children often find it unsettling.
Sarah Weller of the Weller Way is a Certified NLP Practitioner and Parenting Coach and a great voice of reason. I asked her to share some of her wisdom about how to help your little one deal with new situations.

“If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you possibly have to fear?”
Susan Jeffers

Children experience change for all sorts of reasons and they cope with it best when they are prepared for it in advance. Starting a new school, the arrival of a new sibling, a new partner, or a change of home, can all be handled positively with the right amount of involvement, planning and talking about the advantages, but it can still be stressful because routine and predictability is disrupted. It can really help to have a little bit of understanding of the different ways our brains are programmed from an NLP perspective. And then we can make our communication a little more bespoke. NLP is Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP is about how we communicate with others, and how our communication is framed from our beliefs and values (Neuro), what we say and how we say it (Linguistic) and the effect on others (Programming). Effective communication is dependent on how others receive it and the effect it has on them.

Sometimes we forget as adults that the things that make us excited and eager for change, can make children incredibly anxious, because they haven’t got the life experience to know that things will be ok. So they end up really like a fish out of water. I remember myself age 10 sobbing on the steps of a new house my parents had bought, refusing to go in, because it “smelt,” I didn’t understand the word “renovation” and remember feeling totally shocked that my parents could bring me to a house that was smelly, dirty and dark, not able to visualise what “renovation” meant. It would have helped me if my parents had talked me through what colours they wanted the walls to be painted and asked me how I’d like mine decorated. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised I’m a small chunk rather than a bigger picture person, so I feel more at ease when I’m aware of the details. This is one of my meta- models, a way my brain is programmed.
A meta model is our preferred way of processing and receiving information, the way in which information makes sense to each unique brain.

It really helps to be aware of your and your child’s meta- models so that you can plan in advance what sort of information will help your child feel safe and secure, by understanding their thinking patterns across a variety of contexts.
When dealing with change, the following meta- models come into play:
Big chunk or small chunk: meaning is your child happy with an overall description of the process or will they need a bite size chunking down of each little bit?
Same or Different: will they need reassurances of what will be the same or will they embrace the new differences?
Move towards or Move away from: do they embrace new experiences for themselves, through curiosity or do they crave change to move away from something they didn’t like?

Moving House

Moving House

While moving house is known as a particularly stressful time for adults, it isn’t necessarily so for all children, only if they pick up on the atmosphere and you become less connected with them due to the stress you are experiencing. By focusing on the positive aspects of the move, what you will all gain will help children become excited about the new things they will be able to do, whether that’s a bigger space for the brio train track or a new den in the garden.

A New Sibling

Newborn baby boy with older baby brother

Similarly with the arrival of a new sibling, your 1st born’s environment is probably quite small and insular, revolving around home. The impact of a new baby therefore is far greater for them, as life will never be the same again for them, or you. Your child’s behaviour may change because of this change in their environment and their beliefs will have changed. They may believe that they are now less loved, less important and due to reactions to any challenging behaviours they are displaying, sub-consciously may feel less lovable. The belief that they were the baby is no longer true, whilst at the same time, the baby you now have is getting lots of love and attention. If you are breast feeding, to a little one, it appears that the baby is being loved all the time because they are physically attached to you. This explains why a toddler’s behaviour can often deteriorate with the arrival of a new sibling, as they believe that by behaving like a baby, they will get more attention. Being aware of this can help you give enough positive attention, which will take away the negative seeking behaviour patterns.


Starting or Changing School

It really helps if you can put yourself in your child’s shoes on this one, as what makes a great school for them, won’t be what it is for you. If your child is really excited about starting school, this will be easy to find out what they are most looking forward to, and could mean that they are a “move towards” character. But if they are more of a shy, introverted, “go away from” character they will need more re-assurance. If they are a “go away from”, you can talk about all the things they didn’t like before, that they won’t have to do anymore. This may work well if they have grown out of nursery and are ready for a new challenge.
If your child likes process, it will help if you make lists together of all the things they will need for school, and run through what a typical day will involve.
Starting school is a big adventure, and whether your child has bags of confidence or not, you can remind them of all the skills they have and what they will be able to do with those skills.
How can we prepare children for change positively?
If your family is experiencing some form of change and you have noticed a change in your child’s behaviour, be it mood, co-operation or tantrums, it may be because they are experiencing some form of stress or anxiety related to change. Negative behaviour can be as a result of the change in routine, and therefore your child feels “out of control”. Without structure and routine children feel insecure and therefore unhappy.

The Weller Way’s top tips:

yellow rubber duck

• Involving all the family in discussing the changes ahead and the reasons for it have huge benefits. Preparation over a house move pays huge dividends. Moving house after my daughter had just started primary school made her very anxious, as she thought she was going to be far away from her new friends. We were able to show her this wouldn’t be the case by walking with her from the new house to her school on a familiar route, before we moved, which helped put back a smile on her face. She’s small chunk like me!

• Make your communication bespoke, by considering your child’s meta models and how they process the world. Are they visual?, in which case showing them a map of where you live, compared to where you are going if you are staying local could help. If they are kinaesthetic, talking about how they will feel, will be more effective than describing what things will look like.

• It can help to relate our own stories of change when we were little, acknowledging how hard we found it, and this might open up the conversation about their feelings. Putting names to feelings builds emotional literacy, by introducing words such as sad and scared. This may take some time, but if we make ourselves available and truly present when they seem to be struggling, they will eventually open up. If your child suddenly starts crying about something that to you seems silly, this may be a pre-empt to help them find the words by telling them that you are noticing that they seem upset , rather than dismiss them as silly. Help them acknowledge that it’s ok to feel sad, or scared or worried and it may take time to adjust but these feelings are normal, but in time they will pass as they become more familiar with the new situation

• Encourage some coping strategies that encourage positive thinking and creative solutions to make the situation better

• Stress the positives of the changes, and be aware of the times you can slip into moaning about how stressful it is when they can hear you

• Emphasise that life’s changes are new adventures

• Re-assurance techniques using positive and empathetic language. Not dismissing their worries, or telling them they will be fine or that they shouldn’t worry. Research proves that dismissing or trying to minimise worry makes it worse. Beginning to sow the seeds of emotional resilience and confidence from an early age will help children cope with change in the future by holding the space for them to feel the fear, with the re-assurance that you know that they will be ok

• Think about how you can preserve a similar routine. If that is going to be difficult, create some new rituals that you can all look forward to

But of course each circumstance and family is different so to apply some Coaching principles, here are some questions that you could ask yourself which may help you navigate the process:
1. How much does my child know about this change that is coming?
2. How have I been helping my child through this so far?
3. Have I noticed a change of behaviour in my child?
4. Are they saying that they are excited about the change but their behaviour is indicating otherwise?
5. In my child’s eyes, what might they be struggling with? Am I seeing the change through my child’s eyes?
6. How can I modify my own attitude that will help my child cope?
I am a Family Relationship and Parenting Coach, using NLP to help families become fully functional. If you have any questions or would like to discover more about making your communication more effective through using meta models and representational systems…..that is NLP, please contact me at sarah@thewellerway.co.uk or visit my website http://thewellerway.co.uk

Sarah Weller. Certified NLP Practitioner & Parenting Coach
Email: wellerway@gmail.com
Telephone: 07825411793
http://thewellerway.co.uk