Helping Children Adjust to a Move
We are moving to a new community. How can we help our children with this big change?
In today’s shrinking world, job loss, promotions, and transfers are forcing some families to move frequently, across town, across the country and even around the world. These moves can be quite difficult for the whole family but particularly for the children.
Most people think that, in general, moving is harder on an older child – high school students, for instance, who are asserting their identities, forming meaningful friendships and becoming achievement-oriented. Older children do benefit from permanence and stability. Nevertheless, youngsters in middle childhood have some major adjustments to make, too, even if they seem more flexible. Children, of course, are different, and no two will handle a move quite the same. Stresses such as moving will tend to accentuate different aspects of your child’s personality.
Positive and Negative Aspects
Children tend to think about the negative side when a family moves. There is the loss of friends and, along with it, loss of a sense of belonging. In the new community the children will be newcomers, strangers and may need to learn some different social rules. In changing schools they might have to leave behind extracurricular activities – a sports team, a school drama program – that were important to them. Upon arriving at their new school, they may find themselves either academically ahead of or behind their new classmates, depending on the curriculum in the previous school.
In helping your child prepare for a move, place as much emphasis as possible on the positive aspects of what awaits her. This is an opportunity for her to live in and learn about a new city, perhaps even a new country, and its people. She may be exposed to new cultural traditions and interesting and different ways of life. It also is a chance to meet new people and make new friends. Explain how the family will benefit from the move.
For some children, particularly those who may have experienced academic failure or been rejected by classmates at their old school, the opportunity for a new beginning is an exciting prospect. It gives them a chance to be accepted in a new setting and to make friends free of their former reputations and self-images. If this is the case, talk about and plan what you and your child will do differently in your new community. Be cautious, however, of unreasonable expectations that a move will make things wonderful. Children take their likes and dislikes and personal strengths and weaknesses with them.
Let Your Child Express Feelings
Give your child adequate notice to get used to the idea of moving – even a year in advance may be appropriate. Acknowledge her sadness about leaving behind friends and familiar places. Let her know you are sympathetic and that you understand that she might feel nervous about what awaits her, whether it is the new people, the new school or the new bus ride. At the same time, tell her you will try to make the move as easy as possible for the entire family, and emphasize some of the positive aspects listed earlier.
If you are also experiencing stress about the move, be open with these feelings. At the same time, keep in mind that your own anxiety might rub off on your child. For that reason, try maintaining and communicating an optimistic attitude about what lies ahead. The stress of moving is greatest about two weeks before and after the move. Be sure to take some breaks to relax and play.
Emphasize The Excitement of Moving
Remind your child that while the move may be making everyone a bit uneasy, it will also be adventurous and interesting. Use the example of the pioneers or the immigrants who overcame their own fears and traveled to new lands, where they encountered new and stimulating experiences. Give her some age-appropriate books that describe families moving from one city to another. Encourage your child to make plans for the move. Have her make lists of tasks and projects to do.
Take Your Child To The Community Where You Will Be Moving
She will probably discover that the new city is really not that different from the one she is leaving. Drive by her new school, and even visit it for a few minutes so she can get a sense of what awaits her. Much of her fear of the unknown should dissipate with this trip.
Look for new things your child might enjoy. For example, if the family is moving to a larger house, maybe your child will get a room of her own for the first time. Perhaps the new city has a zoo or a science museum that she might find interesting. If you are moving to a different climate, there may be opportunities for new activities (skiing, sledding, ice skating; or, in warmer climates, the chance to play outdoors year-round). Plan in advance to enroll your child in sports, clubs, lessons, and the like so she has something to look forward to and so she doesn’t lose out on opportunities.
Give your child the chance to participate in decisions that directly affect her. For instance, what kind of wallpaper would she like for her room? If the new house permits the family to get a new pet, what kind would she prefer?
Become Involved In The New Community Yourself
As you meet new people through local schools, groups, or organizations, you can be opening some doors for your child to make new friends. Reach out to people who have children the same age as your own child. Invite them over to make it easier for your youngster to meet other children. Investigate community sports activities, YMCAs and Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs. As your child sees you finding your place in the new neighborhood, she will feel more comfortable and secure doing the same. If you are successful in finding a new friend for your youngster before school starts, your child will have the security of knowing someone on the first day of school.
Maintain Contact With The Old Community
If your child wants to keep her old friendships intact, help her do so. Host a farewell party with her friends, and take photographs as keepsakes. Encourage her to write letters and make phone calls. If possible, visit the old neighborhood from time to time, and invite some of her old friends to spend weekends and vacations with you. Let her know that even though you have moved, she does not have to break the ties that have been so important to her.
Make The Move A Family Event
If you plan the move as a family, and support one another as you adjust to the new community, it can bring your family closer together. Let your child know that you will be available to help her deal with any problems and concerns that arise.