Transitions and Your Child’s Story – Part Two

~ By Rebecca Thompson

We’ve all been there. In fact, I was there this morning. It was past time for us to walk out the door to get my older son to school and my youngest was still in his pajamas playing with LEGO’s on the floor. Transitions are not necessarily his forte.
Transition times are often when a child’s early story is re-enacted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked parents to tell me the sequence of events that happen when they’re trying to get out of the house and the sequence of events that happened at birth and there are striking similarities. For example, my oldest son was born in about 3 hours total labor time. His birth was quick! He stared at me with his eyes wide open for about an hour after he was born, probably saying, “What just happened?!” When it is time for a transition, he is the one standing by the door (usually before me, since I am doing all my mom things) waiting for the rest of us. He transitions to get out of the house in the same way he came into the world- his first transition.
As a complete contrast, I can’t tell you when my labor started with my youngest son. I don’t know how many hours it was from start to finish. It was a gentle labor. When he was born, he didn’t open his eyes for about 5 hours. He was just content and peaceful. When it is time for Josh to leave the house, it is a lot like his birth. I don’t really know when it begins or ends, but eventually we manage to leave. He is usually not in a hurry at all. Many times, he seems almost oblivious to the fact that we’re going somewhere. I sometimes wonder if that’s how his birth was for him.
My point here is that we may be dealing with a very old pattern in their bodies that comes up when it is time to leave the house (or get ready for bed, or take a bath, or have a meal). One of the best ways to support a child to move through these early patterns is to hold the possibility of there being a connection to their early story and to share that story with them. When everything else you’re trying isn’t working, it might be time to consider this more radical (but much gentler and usually far more effective) approach.
As I shared with you several months ago, my youngest son was having a lot of trouble around the transition out of the swimming pool. I’d tried all the usual ways of prompting his exit (giving him a warning, suggesting we wouldn’t be able to return unless we had LOTS of time, etc.), but they weren’t working. So I decided to share his birth story with him.
Since he’s 9 and his birth wasn’t traumatic for either of us, I decided to share his story with him at bedtime one night. I looked him in the eyes and slowed myself down (in much the same way that you probably slow yourself down when it is time to sleep) while connecting with him. I made an effort to speak slowly and deliberately, as we process our stories much more slowly than most of us normally speak. I shared that I wasn’t sure when his birth actually began, but that I knew he was coming. And I shared what it must have been like for him. (This is key! Most of us tell a birth story and we tell our own perspective. But the child needs to hear what it must have been like for them. If you can’t tell the story to your child from his perspective, you probably need to tell it for yourself. That’s normal, by the way…)
I watched him as he listened to the story of his own birth. I shared how he was so peaceful when he was born that I wasn’t sure if he even realized he had been born. I shared with him how happy I was to see him, but that he didn’t open his eyes for a long time. I also told him that he didn’t seem unhappy, but that he just didn’t see the need to open his eyes quite yet. I wondered aloud again if he just didn’t realize he had been born for a while.
Since he’s older, I did take the story one step further. I shared with him how it seems the same way when he is getting out of the pool. It seems like he isn’t really aware that it is time to go and it feels a lot like his birth. And I left it at that for him to ponder.
The next time we went to the pool and it was nearing time to go, I gave him a 5-minute warning. He stopped and looked right at me to acknowledge he had heard me (something he normally didn’t do). When 5 minutes was up, I let him know it was time and he got out of the pool. As he was drying off, he shared that he was thinking about when he was a tiny baby and how he didn’t even know he was born. I thought it was interesting that he was processing our conversation from the previous week and how it might be showing up in his present life now. But the biggest thing for me was that he got out of the pool!
Sharing a birth story doesn’t always result in an immediate change like this one did. Many times the story needs to be shared many times over a period of time and revisited as a child reaches different developmental milestones. That wasn’t the first time my son had heard his story over the years and I’m sure that had a big impact on how quickly he was able to respond. Now, I think we need to spend a little time working on his morning transitions so we can leave the land of LEGO behind and get his brother off to school on time in the morning!

Next month, I’ll go into a bit more detail about sharing a story with your child, including when you need more support to share a story.

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