Nicola Guy, Certified Play Therapist, CIMI and Certified MISP Instructor at Acorn Family Wellness Center, suggests two of the very best ways to help children prepare for a big move.
As well as being wonderfully exciting, moving can be a stressful and anxious time for everyone involved – the parents and children who are moving; and the parents and children who are staying. It is important that you don’t forget to take care of your emotional well-being; an essential part of the process that needs focus in order for internal readiness.
Understanding the process and making it meaningful
During the transitional stage a move represents, children can feel insecure and lots of emotions can surface as a result, such as fear, blame, anger, grief, excitement, sadness, joy and loss. As parents, we can help our children come to terms with the change and handle some of the emotions by creating a memory box or reading a therapeutic story to your child – you can do this for both the child leaving and the child staying.
One of the most important factors in the moving process is doing it together! When a parent and child can share positive meaningful relationships and experiences together; they can strengthen their bond and increase the feeling of safety and security.
It is important to give your child the opportunity for closure in order for him to be able to move forward and to become more settled in his new environment. This closure can be accomplished by doing something meaningful together. Two of the most effective and helpful activities that help children prepare for a move are creating a memory or treasure box and reading a personalised, therapeutic story.
What is a memory box?
A memory box is a special box where your child can keep special visual items inside that are meaningful because they remind him of events, places or people. The visual items in the memory box can help your child remember those moments or places at any time. These visual items can help your child stay connected and can help your child to move on.
Giving your child the opportunity for closure is a positive step in helping your child move on. It helps your child to let go, and move on to new things in a healthy way. The process of creating the box together and selecting visual and special items for the box gives your child the opportunity to clear his mind for new experiences and learning.
What do I need to do?
Spend time with your child to find out what they enjoyed most about the place they are leaving. Talk about their friends and the places they liked to visit. Share feelings connected with interesting and exciting moments they’ve experienced in the place they are leaving. Revisit the places and friends, collect tickets, photos, objects or postcards. Tell your child you are both going to create a special box together, so that your child can choose things to put inside. Use lots of arts and crafts materials to decorate the box and make it special. Go with your child and help him gather things that are meaningful to him and put them in your child’s memory box. Children can draw or write memories down and put them in, too. Explain to your child that he can take his memory box with him and have access to it whenever he wants.
What is a therapeutic story?
A therapeutic story uses metaphor to reach your child’s unconscious, giving your child an opportunity to explore and figure out his feelings, thoughts and experiences. It is an effective method of using metaphor to create a situation, which is similar to the one that your child is facing and one that your child can relate to (for example, a character facing the same problem your child is facing; sharing the same struggles). During the therapeutic story the character learns to deal with the situation and finds ways to shift his struggles into something positive; a big shift happens here and the character is left with a positive outcome. A therapeutic story can really reach your child on a deeper level, which supports the emotional well-being of your child.
What do I need to do?
When constructing a therapeutic story for your child you can jot down a few things that your child loves, such as drama and fish, and you can also jot down your child’s feelings or experiences (for example, your child is sad to leave the drama school she loves). You can include a sad fish in the story who feels that there’s no replacement for his current drama school.
When you know the issue, you can create an objective in the story which can help your child figure out ways to change their feelings (for example, the fish finds a piece of cloth and realises that she doesn’t need the drama school in order to be creative and happy). This can create a positive shift for your child and can give them different ways of looking at the change and reasons for why the move could be great. You can end the story with a positive outcome and a celebration (for example, all the other fish ask her to make them a cape and then they all use their imagination to make up a story).
An example of a brief therapeutic story
Once upon a time, there was a little golden fish called Goldie, who enjoyed staying behind at the fish drama school theatre after fish school. There, she used different costumes to play different characters. She was so happy when she was performing.
One afternoon, Goldie came home from fish school. Mummy fish and Daddy fish said excitedly,
“We have some news Goldie, we’re moving!”
Goldie was not happy about this and felt sad. She would never find a fish school drama theatre like the one she went to every day, and she simply did not want to go.
Goldie swam out the door and ended up in the reef, all alone.
“Oh look, there’s something sparkly with sequins all over it. I’m a bit cold so I will go underneath the sparkly cloth to keep warm”.
All of a sudden, she heard some other fish coming and quickly started to swim away, unknowingly, with the cloth still attached to her fin,
“I need to get out of here”
she said under her breath.
She heard yelling from the other fish,
“Stop, please, where did you get that beautiful cape from?”
Goldie looked behind her and didn’t see a cloth, she realised she was wearing a beautiful cape. The other fish surrounded her, grinning from ear to ear,
“Please, can you make us princess capes? We want to pretend to be princesses, just like you.”
“You like to dress up? Sure, I will swim down and get some”.
Goldie took some more pieces of cloth and fixed each one onto each little fin. One of the fish excitedly said,
“I have an idea”
and picked up a stick and proclaimed
“I am the knight, and I will protect all of you by standing outside your castle”.
Goldie smiled, she was extremely happy. She could see that she didn’t need her fish drama school theatre in order to be happy, all she needed was her imagination.
Goldie was ecstatic; she sped home with her fin working overtime,
“Mummy, Daddy, I can’t wait to move to the new place. I will have my own drama school. I will make my own costumes and invite all the fish from the school to come and join me”.
This article appeared in Playtimes January Issue 2016.