Debbie Reber on Navigating Big Life Transitions with Differently Wired Kids
I haven’t done a solocast in a while, but when you talk, I listen, and this topic has been requested by many of you, so I decided to dedicate this episode to talk about navigating big life transitions with differently wired kids. Our family has gone through our fair share of big changes, which you’ll hear all about in this episode, so this is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Especially as a parent of a differently wired kid, I know that there are some extra challenges that might come up when their routines, environment, life circumstances, or supports change, and our kids are also more likely to be resistant to changes (even if they are beneficial). So today I’ll be sharing the strategies I’ve personally found helpful while going through big transitions with Asher.
In this episode, I talk about key things such as why being honest when communicating with your kid is so important to help them understand and process change, how being vulnerable can be a way to show support, how to validate our kids’ feelings about the changes or transitions, and how to identify their concerns so you can make plans to address them in advance. I also share about what adjustment disorder is and the kind of extra support you might need during transitions.
I hope you enjoy this episode, and if you have other themes you’d like me to cover an an upcoming solocast episode, you can email them me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Debbie Reber
Tilt Parenting Founder & CEO Debbie Reber (MA) is a parenting activist, bestselling author, podcast host, and speaker. A certified Positive Discipline trainer and a regular contributor to Psychology Today and ADDitude Magazine, Debbie’s most recent book is Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World. Debbie’s Tilt Parenting Podcast is the top performing podcast for parents, caregivers, educators, and professionals raising and supporting neurodivergent children, and has more than 4 million downloads. In November 2018, she spoke at TEDxAmsterdam, delivering a talk entitled Why the Future Will Be Differently Wired. In the summer of 2020, she co-created the Parenting in Place Masterclass series.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- The benefits and growth that can come from navigating big changes as a family
- Why honesty is so important when communicating with your child about big changes
- What to share versus what not to share with your child about the transitions you go through
- How to validate the big emotions and thoughts that big transitions can bring up in your child
- The importance of doing your own work as a parent to be able to support our kids during transitions
- What adjustment disorder is and the extra support you might need to help your child through one
- How being vulnerable with your kids can be really supportive for them
- Identifying the concerns that our kids have and coming up with plans to address them in advance
- Creating new routines to create security for our kids during big transitions
This Season’s Sponsor: Outschool
I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for resources that can help differently wired kids build skills in areas like executive functioning, emotional regulation, and better understand how their brain is wired, especially during the back-to-school season. So, I love that Outschool offers tons of live classes like The Power of Impulse Control, Sketchnoting for the ADHD Brain, Mastering Math with Minecraft, Autism Lego Club, Executive Function Skills for Success, Friendship Skills, and much more.
In these and more than 150,000 other classes on every topic under the sun, Outschool takes kids ages 3 to 18 beyond the classroom through small, live classes taught by expert teachers, all through an accessible online learning platform.
CLICK HERE to learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s learning journey, and use the code TILT to get a $20 credit towards your first class.
Debbie Reber 00:00
Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Outschool this podcast season. Outschool’s unique approach to education empowers differently wired kids ages three through 18 to dive into their interests in small live classes designed to foster a love of learning, create connections and cultivate independence. Learn more at outschool.com/tilt.
Debbie Reber 00:23
I believe deeply that there is learning and growth possible in every single experience and that these big transitions all the ones that our family has gone through, I believe that they have provided and honestly still continued to provide a lot of opportunities to grow emotional literacy to practice perseverance to learn how to process difficult emotions, to learn that being really uncomfortable is survivable. To learn that we can do hard things. Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber. And I haven’t done a solo cast in a while. But when you talk, I listen. And this topic has been requested by many listeners. So I decided to dedicate this episode to talk about navigating big life transitions with differently wired kids. Our family has gone through our fair share of big changes, which you’ll hear all about in this episode. So this is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, especially as a parent of a differently wired kid, I know that there are some extra challenges that might come up when their routines, their environment, their life circumstances, or their supports change, and our kids are also more likely to be resistant to changes, even if we know they’re beneficial in the long run. So today, I’ll be sharing the strategies I’ve personally found helpful while going through big transitions with Asher. In this episode, I talk about key things such as why being honest when communicating with your kid is so important to help them understand and process the change how being vulnerable can be a way to show support, how to validate our kids feelings about the changes or transitions and how to identify their concerns, so you can make plans to address them in advance. I also talk about adjustment disorders and the kind of extra support you might need to find for your child during transitions. I hope you enjoy this episode. And if you have other themes you’d like me to cover in an upcoming solo cast episode, you can always email them to me at info at tilt parenting.com And before I get to my solocast, if you are newer to Tilt, be sure to visit Tilt Parenting online for free resources including my free 7-Day Differently Wired Challenge which I designed to help people make some small reframes over the course of a week that can have a big impact in daily life. The first chapter of my book Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World which you can download for free. And my weekly newsletter, which always includes a little inspiring or actionable tidbit highlights of upcoming events you might want to know about. And links to recent news articles about parenting neurodivergent kids, you can find all of that at tiltparenting.com. And if you are new to Tilt, I just want to welcome you. If you’re raising a child who is neuro divergent in any way, and you’re looking for strength, spaced optimistic resources to support you on your journey, you’re in the right place, and I’m so glad you’re here. Okay, so now without further ado, here is my special solo episode on navigating big transitions with the differently wired kids.
Debbie Reber 03:58
Okay, so as I said in the introduction, this is an often requested topic, and I just decided it was time to share my thoughts on how to help our neuro divergent differently wired complicated kids, kids with big emotions, big experiences, process, big transitions. And perhaps I should even just define what I mean by big transitions. This could be switching schools, this could be a move that could even to move across town to a new house to a new state. It might be to a new country, as was the case with us. This could be a change in family makeup for whatever reason. This could be having a friend move. There are so many big transitions that we’ve gone through as a collective and that our kids have experience. And certainly this is something that I personally have a lot of experience with. So we, my little family here, we’ve been through a lot of transitions, we moved schools and elementary school two times, we moved from Seattle to the Netherlands. When Asher was nine, we then moved back to the US, when Asher was 14, we moved to New Jersey, six months later, wemoved to Brooklyn. So that was a lot of transitioning in a very short period of time. And then we had a big transition of going from homeschooling, which we did for six years, to starting high school in a new city in ninth grade. So again, a lot of hard won wisdom here, a lot of lived experience navigating big transitions. And before I get to strategies, I have a lot of strategies to share. But I just want to say this upfront, transitions are hard, big life changes are hard. This is hard stuff. These big transitions have challenged our family a lot. If you’ve lived through these, you know what I’m talking about. I personally have felt regret, I have felt fear about the number of big transitions that our family has gone through. I’ve been concerned about how those have created additional challenges for my child, whether they were the right thing, some of them were our choice, some of them were not. And so this is definitely something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and processing and trying to understand. And most importantly, trying to support my child while also taking care of myself. And to throw on top of that I believe deeply that there is learning and growth possible in every single experience, and that these big transitions, all the ones that our family has gone through, I believe that they have provided and honestly still continued to provide a lot of opportunities to grow emotional literacy, to practice perseverance to learn how to process difficult emotions, to learn that being really uncomfortable, is survivable. To learn that we can do hard things to become more resilient. And by the way, I’m talking about for all of us, everyone in my family, not just for Asher. So do I sometimes wish that the past 15 years had involved fewer big life transitions? Yes, sometimes for sure. But this has been our journey. And I also know that every family, every one of you listening out there, your journey is unique. It’s full of its own challenges and big transitions. And that is how we navigate those and grow and learn through them. That can be ultimately and I think profoundly game changing. So with that said, I’m going to just share a bunch of my thoughts about how to best navigate big changes or transitions that you and your family may be going through or maybe facing in the future. So if there are big changes on the horizon, or you’re in the midst of some big changes, or you’ve been going through them for a while, I hope you find a couple of strategies here that will help you move through that in a way that can feel a little bit better for you and your family.
Debbie Reber 08:10
The first thing I’m going to talk about is honesty. It’s really important that we are honest with our kids about what’s happening. And we want to do this in an age appropriate way. So depending on what exactly is happening, and how old your kids are, and I’m talking, not necessarily their biological age, but really their emotional age, where they are in their development. Be honest with them. And of course, you know your child. So if you know that your child shuts down with too much info at once, or they get overwhelmed, then find ways to share it in drips, right you don’t have to have one big conversation. But it’s really important that we are honest, that we don’t lie to our kids about what’s going on, because they’re feeling secure in their lives and in their relationships and in their family really starts with honesty, it starts with them feeling respected, and that they know we’re gonna give it to them straight. So you can do this again in an age appropriate way. But honesty is really important. Next, you want to share what you can. And I say what you can because sometimes the nitty gritty details about the why for the change aren’t really necessary for the child to know. So if there is an underlying reason why a change is happening, and that underlying reason would be painful for your child to know about. Again, given their age, their developmental age and where they are, then you don’t need to share that you don’t need to share absolutely everything. So for example, if you are changing schools and it’s because your child was disinvited or kicked out of the current school, and we have a young kid we don’t want to necessarily say well, you got kicked out of school so we need to find somewhere else we want to say A year moving schools because we have found a school where you can be more supported, where you can feel better when you go to school every day. And we recognize that this other learning environment wasn’t a great fit for you. So you can talk about things like that. Don’t go into the details if they’re not going to help your child process. And if they could create additional pain or trauma for them in the department of sharing what you can, if you’re moving, and you can visit the place ahead of time or see things online, that can be a great thing to share. Give them some insight, right, a lot of the anxiety and challenge over big transitions is that fear of the unknown. So if you can make the unknown more known, that can be really helpful. Also, sharing what you can and giving them an inside look are a sneak peek of what’s to come or giving them that information can also help you start to identify where their big areas of concern are, or worry are. And those are things you’ll want to proactively plan and solve for. And I’m going to talk about that later. But as much as you can bring them in the loop, right, get them caught up to speed, help them understand what’s happening, and give them that information, the better.
Debbie Reber 11:20
So chances are if you are in the middle of a big transition, or you’re going to be making a big transition in your family, that’s going to impact your child, your child is probably going to have some big emotions around it, they’re going to have some thoughts, some strong feelings, shall we say. And so my next best practice is to validate, validate, validate. So we always want to validate our kids’ emotional experiences, and their big feelings like always, no matter what’s going on. And certainly in this case, when there are big transitions, this is as critical as ever. And we’re probably going to have to do this even more, the emotions will probably be bigger, they may last longer. And our kids may need to process this big transition over and over and over and over again much longer than we might expect. And we want to continue to validate. And I just want to say this reminder, validating is not agreeing with our kids or jumping into the pool with them. That is not what validation is, validation is acknowledging how they feel, and letting them know that we see and understand that this is their experience right now. It’s helping them feel seen, that the way they feel matters. Validating our kids’ emotional experiences and feelings is one of the most important things we can do to help our kids’ nervous systems Calm down, and to help them move through the emotions. So that they’re more available for working on coping strategies or thinking about ways to navigate what feels hard. So validate, validate, validate, and when you think you’re done validating do it some more.
Debbie Reber 13:10
And related to that is be sure that you make space to listen to and to be available for your child. So we want our kids to know that we are always there to listen and process. Right that we’re not impatient about it. We’re not like oh my gosh, this again, right? We want them to know that we are their safe place. And we can hold the space, we can hold their big emotions, we can take the messiness of what they are feeling. We are available to them, we’re available to listen, we’re available to comfort, we’re available to help process and we’re available to validate and empathize. So make that space and we have to consciously make that space sometimes, you know, if you have been listening to this for a while, you know that Asher and I often go on walks and talks. And that’s something we started many, many years ago. And we’ve processed a lot of big emotions surrounding big transitions over the course of those many, many miles that we’ve walked and talked together.
Debbie Reber 14:11
Another thing that we really need to do, because this is hard on us as parents, is to make sure we’re doing our own work so that we can hold that space for our kids. So if you’re going through a big transition with your family, I have no doubt that you are also going through your own emotions and challenges as a result of that big transition. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. I admittedly was a complete mess during pretty much all of the big transitions that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode. You know in our move back our repatriation in 2018 was so painful for me. And I really struggled with navigating my own big emotions about that. And so it was really important that I I did my work to support myself through that, so that I wasn’t contributing to what my child was struggling with as well. So I tried to as much as possible process my own things separately, rather than with my kid. And I just want to say this doesn’t mean that you have to hide your experience or hide your emotions, that’s a different thing. Certainly, Asher saw me cry more than once. And actually, that was a lovely opportunity for Ash to comfort me. But we don’t want to bring our emotions into the interactions with our kids. Or we can just become really tangled and enmeshed in that emotional experience. So as much as you can do that work on your own, whether that means working with therapists, talking to friends, talking to family, talking to your partner, if you have a partner, and try to process the things that you’re struggling with about the transition on your own, so that you can really show up to your child without your emotional experience getting too enmeshed with your child.
Debbie Reber 16:09
The next thing I just want to mention is that, it’s probably a good idea to expect some regressions. So I often say that the biggest pain points that we have, as parents, are when our expectations are not matching reality. And that disconnect there is where a lot of our pain originates from. So I’m just gonna say, let’s just expect some regression. And therefore, won’t catch us off guard so much. And it won’t be such a disconnect with what’s really happening. I mean, we know that our kids are on a zigzag developmental timeline, right, up and down and forwards, you know, two steps forward three step backward all over the place. Big transitions that a child may have trouble processing or adjusting to, is very likely to result in some form of developmental or emotional regression. So this is normal. So I encourage you to know that it’s normal, to plan for it, to prepare yourself emotionally for it if you can. And just trust in this truth, which is that like anything else, this regression is a phase, it will not last, it is a phase, it is part of this process. So expect some regression, and try not to authorise that regression, and think that it’s a huge step back and you’ve lost all this ground. And you may temporarily take some steps back, but it’s a phase, and your child will move through it. So related to that, my next reminder is to be patient with your child’s timeline for adjusting. So I talk a lot about timelines, and how differently wired kids are on their own timeline for everything, right, we know this is true, they all have their own unique timeline, well, they’re going to have their own timeline for adjusting to any big transition to. And in fact, some kids may develop what’s called an adjustment disorder, something I didn’t know about until we went through some big changes. And I became familiar with what this is. So I wanted to read a definition of an adjustment disorder from the Mayo Clinic. So these are stress related conditions, and people with adjustment disorders experienced more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful or unexpected event. And that stress can cause significant problems in relationships, at work, or at school. So most of the time, people adjust to such changes within a few months. But people who have an adjustment disorder may continue to have emotional or behavioral reactions that can contribute to feeling anxiety or depression. The good news about adjustment disorders is that it is known as a temporary condition. And there is a lot of treatment out there to help people move through adjustment disorder. So again, be patient with your child’s timeline and know that this could take a lot longer, this adjustment to this big transition. And if you notice that your child is really struggling, and it’s continuing on and on and they’re not making that progress, then they may have an adjustment disorder. And that is something that is treatable and can figure it all out.
Debbie Reber 19:27
And that actually leads me to my next best practice and that is to be prepared to get additional support from a therapist. So again, this might be a therapist who specifically can support kids who are struggling with an adjustment. And when we moved from Seattle to the Netherlands, we found a therapist who worked specifically with Expat kids who were struggling with the transition of moving to a new country and being an expat, but because an adjustment disorder is a very real thing, and that can be compounded by other mental health challenges like anxiety or depression or other neuro divergences, it’s really important to get support around this. Again, there are very specific tools that a therapist can use to support a child who has an adjustment disorder. So even if your child is doing other types of therapy, you may notice that you need a little bit of extra support, specifically, with the adjustment to this big life transition.
Debbie Reber 20:29
And now, a quick break for a word from our sponsor. I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for resources that can help differently wired kids build skills in areas like executive functioning, emotional regulation, and better understanding how their brain is wired, especially during the back to school season. So I love that Outschool offers tons of live classes like the power of impulse control sketchnoting for the ADHD brain, mastering math with Minecraft, autism, Lego club, executive function skills for success, friendship, skills, and much more. In these and more than 150,000 other classes on every topic under the sun, Outschool takes kids ages three to 18 beyond the classroom through small live classes taught by expert teachers all through an accessible online learning platform, learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s journey at outschool.com/tilt. And now back to the show.
Debbie Reber 21:32
Okay, the next best practice that I wanted to share is to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable as a parent isn’t something that was necessarily modeled a lot for me. And I know that sometimes, we as parents can feel like we can’t show weakness or vulnerability, especially if our child is struggling with the decision that we have made. Right, we might think that if we show any bit of vulnerability, it will be perceived as a weakness that our child will latch on to and that might get in the way of them accepting the big transition. So we might think that we need to just toe the line. And you know, this was the right decision for our family. And this is the way it is right. But in my experience being open about the ways that we too are struggling with the big transition. And just as importantly, modeling the way that we’re dealing with it, that can actually be very supportive. I think this is something you want to consider your child’s age and maturity level, and where they are with things. But if they are really tuned in to what’s going on, and you’re having your own challenges with this transition, and you’re really trying to support each other through it, talking openly about that can actually be really supportive for them. And we may know that a decision that we’ve made has been hard for our child to accept, right, even though we know it was the best choice for our child, our kids may be really struggling with it, it’s okay to apologize for being the source or cause of that pain, it’s not a sign of weakness, to apologize and say, I’m really sorry that this move or switching schools or the way we pulled you out of this program has been so hard for you, it’s really hard for me to see you struggling so much. I’m really sorry. That’s not a sign of weakness that is a sign of humanity and respect. And ultimately, showing up that way, showing up with that vulnerability can result in opportunities for even deeper connection with our kids.
Debbie Reber 23:38
Okay, I want to move on to my next best practice, which I mentioned briefly earlier in this episode, but I want to talk about it more indefinitely. And that is to identify the concerns that our kids have, and come up with plans to address them in advance. So going back to my story, Asher was eight when we explained that we were leaving Seattle, and that we were going to be moving abroad. And this was a really hard thing for Asher to accept and make sense of at the time. There are a lot of big feelings about it was basically everything that my child knew had grown up with and known was going to be changing. So we knew that Ash had a lot of concerns and fears about the move. And so with the help of a therapist, we compiled a list of all those concerns, so that we could do our best to proactively come up with plans and solutions to address each and every concern, no matter how big it was, no matter how small it was, no matter how seemingly irrational it was. Actually, I don’t think there were any irrational things. I think they were all very real. Whatever those fears and concerns are. They’re very real to our kids. And so it’s really important that we respect those concerns, and that we work with them to try to come up with some plans for how to navigate them. So for example, I knew one of the concerns was about not getting to hang out with the best friend, right? The best friend since preschool? And what is that going to look like and that friends are going to forget about Asher. And so we came up with a plan with those friends of how we would stay in touch and came up with a Skype schedule so that there was a plan for as soon as we moved to be sure that we had regular check-ins. And so those relationships could continue with just one example. And I also just want to say, coming up with these plans to address these concerns, it’s not going to make the concerns go away. Sound like oh, okay, cool. That doesn’t bother me anymore. But it can help in that it is, you know, another reminder that you take your child’s experiences and concerns seriously. And that really matters. Giving our kids a sense of control matters, especially in a time when they feel like they have none. And then B having some plans in place can help reduce the anxiety about the unknowns a little bit. So this can just be so helpful. So the solutions that you’ve come up with very well won’t work in practice, and that is okay too, then it’s time to pivot and come up with a new plan. So sit down with your child, or have your therapist sit down with your child and you and come up with a list, an exhaustive list of all the worries all the concerns about this transition, even after the big transition has taken place, keep building that list, and then go through each and every one of them and work together to come up with some ideas for how to address that concern or ease the pain around that concern a little bit.
Debbie Reber 26:44
Okay, my second to last strategy is regarding creating new routines. So once you are either in the middle of the transition, or on the other side of the transition, it’s really important that you get back to routines or create new routines, routines, and structure creates security for our kids, and helps them feel grounded. Especially because these kids like predictability, they’d like to have that sense of safety. So after we moved to the Netherlands, Darren was the one working full time not at home and I was suddenly homeschooling this very unhappy, dysregulated kid in a strange new land. So I knew we had to create some routines ASAP. In those first few weeks, that new routine involved going to a place down the street called the coffee company, they had very good mochas and I would get Ash a chocolate croissants. And then we would walk to this floating playground. It was a playground on a canal. And there were some picnic tables there. And so we would walk down the street to Coffee Company, being careful not to be hit by any bikes. Then we’d walk to this little floating playground, we’d eat and drink our snacks, and then play on the playground. We did that every day. So as soon as we landed, we started a new routine. Another example before our move, we used to have movie nights and the way that those worked. When we lived in Seattle, I had this old gray fleece Cartoon Network blanket that I had gotten years earlier when I worked there. And so we would order pizza, I think from Pagliacci cheese or sometimes Papa John’s, you know, you can’t go wrong with Papa John’s. And we would lay the Big Cartoon Network blanket out on the floor of our rec room where the TV was, we’d all sit on the floor, eat pizza and watch a movie or we’d watch nature documentaries, or whatever we were watching at the time. So I made sure that I knew that the blanket came on the plane with us, it was not something we shipped. I needed that and carry on because I knew that we’d want to see that blanket when we arrived in the Netherlands and that starting right back up with our movie nights, finding a place to order pizza, laying that blanket on the ground was going to provide a sense of routine, of tradition of security and safety. So even in our little temporary apartment, and then the place we ended up moving into we did not miss a single movie night. So create those new routines. Do them with your kids and adapt old routines that will go a long way in helping our kids feel grounded and secure.
Debbie Reber 29:28
And then my last strategy, hopefully you’re already doing this, but have regular check-ins with your kids. If you’re not doing regular family meetings. This could be a great time to start doing them. And family meetings can just be short check-ins that happen once a week. You can make them fun. They can involve games, they can involve Reese’s Pieces like ours used to or any way to kind of make them light hearted, short and sweet. But just a formal opportunity or forum, if you will, for going around and having everyone share something our family meetings would be, you know, we would have to say something that we liked about the other two people to start off the meeting. And then we would share what was going on or what we were worried about. And then we would end the meeting by each going around and sharing a goal that we had. So you don’t have to be as structured as that. But making sure that there’s time for you all to just check in, like, how are you doing? What’s working? What went really well? And is there anything that I can help you with? Is there any way I can support you, and just make that a regular part of your family routine. So I’ve just gone through a whole bunch of strategies, some very tactical, some more emotional, I just want to kind of close out by going back to something I said at the very beginning, if you’re going through some big transitions or your family’s in the midst of these, or you’ve gone through things, and you’re concerned about the impact on your kids. Transitions are an opportunity to practice doing hard things. How do we navigate when things don’t go the way we expect to practice being flexible, which is not very easy for so many of our kids. So there’s so much learning that can happen. And I think that ultimately, going through these big transitions can end up being really important pivotal moments for so many of our kids where they can really create a foundation that will help them better navigate when the hard stuff happens as they go on with their lives because it happens to all of us. And I know we want to protect our kids so much from the hard stuff. But there’s a lot of value in knowing that we can do hard things and we can get through hard things. This is survivable, and even learning some strategies for how to navigate unexpected life changes. So I hope this has been helpful. I haven’t done a solo cast in a while but again, I was getting a lot of requests for this topic. If you have a topic that you really want to hear from me on. Send me an email at email@example.com and I will work on putting together another solo cast for my next podcast season. Thank you so much for listening. Good luck with all your transitions and take good care.
Debbie Reber 32:27
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