My oldest son, Ari, has not been behaving well lately. I love him to pieces, but he's a bit of a challenge at the best of times. He's smart -- too smart -- and is always questioning, negotiating and figuring out ways to wear me out and get attention, even if he doesn't get his way.
But lately he's been especially hard, teasing his younger brother and not listening. I've been beside myself wondering what to do and why the sudden change.
And then, as we walked home from school hand in hand, he just came out with it.
"I've not been behaving well lately because I'm sad that Spencer is moving," he confessed.
Spencer is our neighbour and my boys' best friend since we moved into our house six years ago. The boys see each other every day, play together at school and after, and consider themselves brothers. I didn't realize that Spencer moving to a nearby home would cause so much turmoil for my kids, but clearly it represents a major loss in my boys lives.
As we continued to walk, Ari continued to talk. "I'm sad and angry that Spencer is moving. It feels like everyone is always leaving me."
All of a sudden it was clear. He hates change, has trouble coping with it, doesn't have the skills to manage it, and he's been through more than the average kid. My divorce. The arrival and departure of a dog. His dad's recent breakup. My parents leaving to winter in Arizona. And now Spencer.
I spoke to Ari's teachers for advice about how to manage Ari's difficulty coping. His teachers are warm and caring and welcomed the chance to help me through this crisis. Communication, they said, is the most important thing.
"I can tell you're a caring mom because you're concerned and you're talking to Ari about his feelings," one teacher told me. "That's the best thing you can do."
They gave me some other strategies as well. When Ari teases his brother, I should remind him that we are a family and families take care of one another. They suggested telling him that this is about his feelings, and that he needs to find a quiet activity to do until he's ready to be kind.
My son comes by it honestly. I take a while to adjust to change. It's scary at first. I hate the uncertainty, the unknown. I'm more likely to have a mini-breakdown, to cry, and then just as quickly, I've learned to look on the bright side. I'm able to cheer up and move forward with whatever new circumstances I'm dealt.
I suppose it takes some kids a while to acknowledge they are afraid of change. They will lash out, be more challenging, while living in the unknown. And then they will learn in time that change can be new and scary but it doesn't mean it's always bad.
I promised my boys they can have lots of play dates with Spencer and even sleepovers.
"He is the kind of person who will be a friend for life," I told Ari over a big bowl of frozen yogurt. We were having special time together and as he ate, he became a captive audience. "It will be different and sad at first, but you will always see him and you get to make friends with a new neighbour, too. I promise it's going to be ok."
He seemed to perk up. And I noticed his behaviour change, too. He became my sweet little boy again -- helpful, kind to his brother and easier than he'd been the last two weeks. I'm glad we are building the kind of relationship in which we can talk about things and help one another through life's major changes. Change, as we know, isn't always easy, but we are a family. I know we can get through anything together.
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