Of Mice and Kids – Reactions to Change
Today I have been thinking about how kids deal with changes and stress. I am always caught by surprise at how obtuse kids’ reactions are to these things.
We’ve had more than the usual amount of mayhem and chaos this month, particularly the past week. As I have mentioned several times already in this blog, we moved two weeks ago to a new house. It was a small but very exciting move.
When we moved in the past, it was always during summer time and we were able to put our regular lives on hold and focus on the move. This time we moved over a weekend during the school year, so we have continued with our regular lives while we unpack and get settled. Every time we have to take the kids to an activity I have an “Oh shit” moment while I try to figure out where the right uniform/equipment is. While our furniture was set up very quickly, we are still living out of boxes and searching for our personal items as we need them.
This past week my mom moved in with us. We had more chaos settling her in and getting used to new routines. We very quickly realized that the bedroom we intended for her didn’t work. I had to sweet talk a kid to switch rooms and we had to shuffle things around again.
Then my mom promptly ended up going to the ER and was hospitalized. All of our routines and stability have been temporarily tossed away. The kids have less access to me, but are getting to spend more time with Spouse. When I am home, I am naturally more stressed than normal.
When I look at the kids I think, wow, they are really handling this well. Number 4 gave up her room very sweetly, even though it had the biggest closet in the house. Number 5 is normally used to having me to himself during the week, but he has been occupying himself and playing nicely while I have had to do other things. The other kids have carried along with their normal routines. On the surface they seem to have dealt with things better than I have.
This weekend though, I noticed an unraveling in their behavior. They are squabbling more with each other. They are less tolerant. They are fighting for my attention – all of them wanting to sit next to me on the couch or at meals. Number 5 has started to have accidents again. The fighting got so bad that when we tried to take them to Friendly’s for dinner they fought so much while we waited for a table that we had to leave the restaurant and go home and eat.
I was getting very impatient with them and couldn’t understand why they were behaving so badly. And then I realized – this was their reaction to the changes.
In a few labs that I have worked in I have had to change mouse cages. A funny thing happens to mice when they are moved to a new cage. When a group of mice that calmly live together in a cage are moved to a fresh cage, they immediately begin running around and fighting with each other. This continues until the pecking order is reestablished.
My children’s behavior remind me of this. When they are in the midst of changes and feeling stressed, they temporarily lose their place. They become cranky and begin fighting with one another until they feel like order is returned. Unlike adults, they don’t seem to react directly to the changes/stresses but instead react to a secondary effect of these changes – loss of stability.
If I could only seem to remember this, it might make things easier when we are thrown off balance!
I would love to hear if any of you notice similar behavior in your children and things you do to help them out.