Big Events:  Preparing Your Kids

Kids love a good vacation or special event as much as anyone else, but most don’t have the capacity to handle the pace and change unless they know what coming.  So that means that you have to spend time in advance – sometimes weeks in advance – telling them what’s coming up.  What complicates things tremendously is that children typically have a limited attention span or don’t really understand unless it’s presented very clearly and plainly.

I Should Start How Long In Advance?

Yeah, give them as much notice – weeks or months – as you possibly can.  Special events aren’t the same as grocery shopping, and there’s no real reason – apart from a purposeful surprise – to keep it from them.  This is especially important when the event is one that an unprepared child can seriously disrupt.  So take the available window to work with them and help them build the foundation for a successful outing.  Since kids deal best with information presented in smaller bites, you can expect to have to use that time to go back to the same well again and again.

Preparing the Kids Is Like Building A House

Knowing that you have a window of time to prepare them – and that they don’t usually handle large information doses well at one time – handle  it like building a house.  The foundation is the most basic and broad information presented over several days and when they show that they’ve got it down, move onwards to more specific items presented on multiple occasions.

For example, let’s say that Uncle Dirk is getting married.  Start with the most basic items, like do you remember your Uncle Dirk?  When Junior demonstrates that he has a clue of Uncle Dirk’s identity, then you can move on to other items:

  • What does it mean when a man and woman are married? 
  • What if Uncle Dirk is marrying another man?  This isn’t meant as a joke remark since small children are seeing this.  I’ve already had to explain the situation to a young child and it can truly complicate your previous conversations with the child.
  • Where will it be and will we have to travel?  Will we stay in a hotel?
  • Who else is going to be there?  Will there be any other kids there?
  • What kind of behavior is expected?  How will you deal with misbehavior?

And kids will have all manner of other questions about the situation. 

Another aspect to new situations is that kids tend to be concrete thinkers.  If a kid thinks that he’s going someplace fun, he probably won’t handle it well if other twists are thrown into the events of the day.  Dammit, Daddy, you said we were going to the beach – why are we at the Kmart now?  He isn’t going to register that you’re buying water wings for him and the resulting snit will only create some resentment at the outset of what should be a fun event.

Communications with children are also cumulative.  People can wonder why the kids don’t want to participate in after-dinner conversations, but if the kids haven’t had the opportunity to participate in those talks when they were younger, then they won’t care to when they’re older.  And when they are younger, the conversations will be short or might veer into talk about Barney the Purple Dinosaur, but they are cumulative.  Be patient.

So when you learn of something new on the horizon, think about how to present it and what you can do to make it a good event for the child as well as the other adults in contact.  He really does want to please you.


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