Helping Your Child Cope with the Unexpected

By Pam Wilsen, School-Based Mental Health Therapist at Emma E. Booker Elementary

Helping your child cope with the unexpectedPreparing older siblings for the birth of a younger sibling can be a wonderful journey for any parent. Discussing what the baby will do, who they might look like, and what the new baby’s name will be with your child is a fun way to engage with them in planning for a life-changing event.

What parents can’t always prepare siblings for is when things don’t go as planned. Helping your child cope with the unexpected can make all the difference when unplanned life changes occur, like the one that happened to me.

What started out as a normal day for my three-year-old, with drop-off at daycare and the promise of going to the park after school, changed to not seeing her for a week, as complications arose in my pregnancy that resulted in an emergency C-section and delivery a month ahead of schedule.

Always the planner, I anticipated the possibility of things not going “according to plan” and arranged for her paternal grandfather to stay with her. He provided a safe and loving environment for her, but things were still very different.

Due to hospital restrictions with COVID, she was unable to visit me while I was hospitalized. Our only means of communication was through video chat. These conversations were often filled with tears and her asking when I would be home and where her baby sister was.

The baby was not released from the NICU when I was, making things even more confusing. I hoped everything would settle for her once I was released from the hospital. I continued to reassure her that her baby sister needed extra time in the hospital but would be home soon, but she continued to struggle with the change. Then, to add more confusion to her life, we moved out of our home and into her grandparents’ house while we awaited our new-construction home to be complete.

The amount of change that occurred in her little life was a lot for anyone to handle. My daughter continued to struggle with worry about the possibility of me leaving again, which resulted in sleep disturbances and behavioral challenges. Luckily, her preschool, Starfish Academy at The Florida Center, provided resources to help her cope with the unexpected.

At Starfish, teachers and staff are trained to support the mental and social-emotional wellbeing of their students. It’s the only preschool in Sarasota County that has a full time social-emotional consultant. Ms. Stephanie, a mental health therapist, met with my daughter and provided extra assistance at school. Stephanie allowed her to share her worries and provided reassurance that everything would be okay.

But Stephanie not only helped my daughter cope with the unexpected, she also helped me by providing me with resources and books to help my daughter build resilience and emotional security.

Today, her baby sister is doing well and we are all living under one roof again. While I know I can never prevent unexpected changes from occurring in our life, I was grateful for the support I received at Starfish Academy to help me navigate them. I feel the next time around, we will be better equipped to handle any unplanned changes that come our way.