Practically everything around the holidays involves transitions. It's no wonder they both stress me out a little bit.
Interestingly, I don't find much on transitions in my gifted "go to" books. I first learned the word transition (I'd been experiencing its impact for years with Oldest, but had no name for it) from Oldest's first teacher. Amazing woman - see my Stone Soup entry. She said to Husband and I, "Oldest has some challenges with transitions. This is something that you are going to need to work on with her."
Whoosh - in one ear, out the next. Didn't really register until a couple of years later when someone mentioned the book Raising Your Spirited Child as a life saver to them. The book has an entire chapter devoted to transitions. According to the author, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, “A transition is a change or passage, from one place, action, mood, topic or thing to another.” Page 137. For us, no matter how large or small, transitions were a battle. And they were exhausting. In the early days it was something as simple as going from one task to another, turning off a TV show, getting out of the house, out of the bathtub, out of the car, out of a playdate. And when I say "battle," I mean B-A-T-T-L-E. One summer I took her to see Cars in the movie theatre and had to carry her to the car afterward, trying to hit me the whole way, because she "didn't want to leave." Classic transition difficulty. Because it wasn't that she didn't want to leave, it was that she couldn't emotionally do it at the time.
Transitioning Oldest into and out of school from a long break has always been painful. Less so now that she’s older and we know what we’re dealing with. Thankfully. We’ve been able to give her some coping mechanisms to minimize the challenges. Spirited Child lists the following suggestions to help your transitionally challenged child. These can be found, in depth, on pages 138-147 of Kurcinka's book. I've added my own spin on them, holiday style, next to each suggestion. Consider it my holiday gift to the adoring fans.
- Using Words. I call these the buzzwords (I know, I know, I should be copyrighting these monikers for their uniqueness!). I have a little repertoire of phrases and sentences that I've developed over the years to remind Oldest a transition is coming. So, for example, during the holidays, we'll start talking about school going back in session at least three days before. "Remember, in three days, you go back to school," talk about the routine and what that means, etc. Kurcinka states, "[a]s you point out to your child the transitions in her life she will begin to look for them herself. Gradually her confidence and ability to cope will increase." Page 138. I have seen this with Oldest over the years. Years, people, not months. It takes a loooonnnnnng time to learn to manage transitions.
- Establish a Routine. I'll focus on this next week, getting back to the routine, that is. During the holidays, though, try to make the routine as close to "normal" as possible. Which means trying to stick to sleep schedules and eating regularly, not overdosing them on TV or computer if you find that they get a little wacky with too much of it.
- Allow Time. Kurcinka says that "every five minutes spent in prevention saves you fifteen minutes of turmoil." Page 140. Completely true here. Even now, rushing = big problem. It just needs to be built into the schedule, you don't have to allow hours upon hours. Words, combined with a little extra time, can work wonders. Youngest, who doesn't have nearly the transition issues Oldest has, did very well transitioning to Santa this year, after some hairy moments last year. Instead of just throwing her on his lap, we discussed him in advance, waved to him and discussed him some more while in line and voila - no tears when it came her turn. Plus I sat with her, of course. But the book points this out about holiday gatherings with families - ask relatives to give your child a few minutes to warm up and hang out with mom or dad before being expected to give hugs and make conversation.
- Forewarning is Critical. This has been a lifesaver for us over the years. I usually use "5,3,1." I tell her when she has 5 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 1 minute before leaving somewhere. I tell her before even turning on a show if we don't have time for the whole thing - after many meltdowns when she was younger. Kurcinka states that the "timing of forewarnings is important. Some kids need to be told hours, days, even weeks in advance what they will be doing." Page 141. This gives them time to process and ask questions. Youngest is going through that right now with our pending airplane trip. We're having daily conversations about what to expect at the airport. One year I made a map for Oldest (I should find that thing!) giving her a visual guide of all of the transitions through the airport. This was after a partcularly harrowing year trying to get through the metal detector in one piece. It showed pictures of the bus ride to the airport, the check-in (including taking our bags away), stopping for breakfast, the metal detector (including a pic of Teddy riding through the conveyor alone), the line for boarding the airplane, the steps up the airplane, the works. From that year on, we had very little airport transitional trouble. Because Oldest just followed the map. Thanks, Dora!
- Allow Time for Closure. I struggle with this one. It often feels to me like I'm catering to her. But because Oldest has so much trouble leaving something mid-task, I try to build in the expectation as well. If, say, we're leaving in 10 minutes for church and she decides she wants to go online and study the Theory of Relativity (kidding, but you know what I mean - do something that will take longer than 10 minutes), I tell her she has to pick something different. And if she's close to completion of something, I let her do it. Mostly.
- Use Imagination. This is pure genius. It seems silly, but it's magic. Magic, I say! Right now, Youngest's doll can get her to transition to anything! I'll put on my best baby voice, pick up the doll and say, "Hey Youngest?" At which point she gets this face - expectant, hopeful, anticipatory.
- Limit the Number of Transitions. Well, yeah. It seems like common sense, but you have noooo idea how many times I tried to take Oldest on "errand day," (including things like dry cleaner, grocery, bank, post office) until I made the connection that she was always, always falling apart by the last three. Kurcinka talks about the real importance of this during the holidays and makes the point that sometimes you will have to say no to an invitation or at least make sure you take two cars so that if your transitionally challenged child has had enough, you can make a subtle exit.
- Help Them Deal with Disappointment. Kurcinka talks about how hard disappointment, a change in plans or unexpected surprise can hit a child who has trouble with transitions. "They experience a rush of emotions that easily overwhelms them." Page 146. I'd say! Oldest still has trouble with this, though it's much better now. Kurcinka suggests, and I have found this essential also, that when major disappointment hits, your child will need to release it somehow. I have actually started saying things to Oldest like, "Ok, I know this is really upsetting, but you must keep it together now. You can fall apart when we get to the house/car/someplace a little more private." It helps. A few years ago, though, it may not have worked so much. I think the holidays, for all of their magic for children, can also be filled with disappointment. Their expectations get raised so high and for a gifted child, sometimes one small change to an expectation can mean a major, devastating disappointment. I've berated myself over the years for not anticipating various and sundry disappointment possibilities for Oldest and therefore not preparing her for it in advance. But the truth is, she does need to learn about unexpected change and she does need to learn to cope with it. Hopefully as the years go on, her coping skills will just get better and better.
- Working Together. Remember to thank your child for "keeping it together." Not in an ingratiating way. Be sincere. Really mean it when you say, "I am so pleased with how you made good choices today. I hope you are proud of yourself as well." Because they should be - it's just as hard for them to have transition trouble as it is for you, their parent.
Then baby says, "will you take me to the potty with you?" Or whatever she's balking at at the moment (she's 2, you know, lotsa balking these days). She is usually nodding and racing to whatever baby's "invited" her to do before I'm even finished with the sentence. Magic, I tell you. Try it. It worked with Oldest until she was, like, 5. Seriously.
Holidays and transition aren't easy for any of us, really. If you think of how much the holidays wear on you as an adult, is it any wonder our children fall apart one or multiple times throughout the "most wonderful time of year?" They are little people who haven't had years to hone their coping skills, they are still learning. It's up to us to help them and to remember to make good choices for them, not trying to do it all at the expense of their (and our) mental health.
Does your gifted child have transition trouble? Do you have any advice to share?
Good luck this coming week and have fun! Next week's Super Sunday Series is about routine - getting back to it after the carefree days of a holiday break.
Tomorrow? True Christmas spirit, as exhibited by my children.