Moving is a challenging and difficult experience for any family, especially those with young children.
Did you know?
- One out of every five families move each year
- Most of those moves are either within the same city or to a neighboring state.
- 8 million children aged 1-14 are relocated with their families annually.
- When parents decide to move, the children tend to be anxious, even upset.
Moving is a fact of life for many families. Job loss, promotions, and transfers are forcing some families to move more often, across town, across the country and even around the world. These moves can be quite difficult for whole the family but particularly for the children.It’s pretty common for people assume that moving is harder on older kids – high school students, for instance, who are asserting their identities, forming meaningful friendships and learning to compete in academics and athletics. It goes without saying that older children benefit from permanence and stability. On the other hand, youngsters in middle childhood and even elementary school have some major adjustments to make, too, even if they seem more flexible. Every child is different, and no two will deal with a move exactly the same way. Stress (such as moving) tends to bring out aspects of your child’s personality that can be very different from what you are accustomed to. A cheerful, easy-going child can suddenly become cranky, sullen, or withdrawn. That’s perfectly normal but you can take a few steps to make the transition easier on your child AND the rest of the family.
Pros & Cons
Face it, change is scary – even for adults. Kids tend to go straight to the negatives when the idea of moving comes up. Most children will immediately think of moving in terms of what they will be losing: friends, familiarity and a sense of belonging. When you move, they will be newcomers, strangers and may need to learn some different social rules. Changing schools means your child may have to leave behind extracurricular activities – a sports team, a school drama program – that are important to her. Curriculums vary from one school system to another and your child may find herself either ahead academically or struggling to catch up.
Help your child prepare for the move by placing 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, the culture and its people. She may be exposed to new traditions, interesting and different ways of life. There will also be a chance to meet new people and make new friends. She could focusing on what she will lose but you can help her see what she will gain! 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 might be 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 careful of setting unreasonable expectations that a move will make things wonderful. Children take their likes and dislikes and personal strengths and weaknesses with them.
Allow Your Child to Express Emotions
Give your child time 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 that you will try to make the move as easy as possible for the entire family, and remember to emphasize some of the positive aspects listed earlier.
If you are also experiencing stress about the move, be open about that too. Children can innately sense when we are being disingenuous. Just be careful that your own anxieties don’t rub off on your child. For that reason, be honest but optimistic about what lies ahead. The stress of moving is greatest about two weeks before and after the move. Be sure make time to relax and play during this critical period.
Emphasize The Excitement
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, traveled to new lands, and encountered new and stimulating experiences. Go to the library and help her check out 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.
Plan a Visit to Your New Neighborhood In Advance
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 where she will be and what her life might be like in the new location. This is can be a great opportunity to meet people in advance of your move. Perhaps you can meet her new teacher or coach while you visit the school. If you’ve already started the home buying process, you might go for a stroll in the new neighborhood and have the chance to meet some of the locals. However you choose to introduce your child to the new area, it should help ease a lot her fears which stem from simply not knowing what to expect.
Seek out things your child will 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 take part in decisions that directly affect her. Allow her to choose the wallpaper or paint for her new room or give her a list of extracurricular activities offered in the new area and let her choose the ones she likes best.
Get Involved, Explore & Network
Even if you are by nature introverted and shy, try to make an effort to connect with people in the new location. The effort to do will pay off in a big way for your little one. As you meet new people through local schools, groups, or organizations, you will naturally open doors for your child to make new friends. Explore the area and reach out to parents of children who are the same age as your child. Invite neighbors or coworkers over to make it easier for your youngster to meet other children. Investigate community sports activities, YMCA, youth groups, clubs and the like. By finding your place in the new neighborhood you are setting an example; your child 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 feel more secure knowing someone on the first day of school.
Stay in Touch With Friends & Family
Moving doesn’t mean losing friendships! Host a farewell party with her friends, take photographs, shoot video with your iPhone, plan on making something like a signature poster to have as a keepsake. Remind her that she will be able 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. Depending on the age of your child, social media is a great way to stay in touch with people who are far away. Let her know that even though you have moved, she does not have to break the ties that are so important to her.
Make It A Family Event
If you support one another as you adjust to the new community, moving can bring your family closer together. Above all, make sure your child knows you will be there to help her deal with whatever problems and concerns come up. That is probably the most reassuring thing you can do for child in any situation – just be there.
- CNN Reports on New AAP Clinical Guideline on the Health and Mental Health Needs of Children in US Military Families (CNN.com)
- Coming Together Around Military Families (zerotothree.org)
- FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™) – Provides resiliency training to military children and families. It teaches practical skills to meet the challenges of deployment and reintegration, to communicate and solve problems effectively.
- FOX News Talks to Pediatrician on the Effects of Deployments on Families(Fox.com)
- Government form to release medical or dental records to a new provider (PDF)
- Military Teens Preparing for a Move (Military Youth on the Move)
- Military Youth Coping With Separation: When Family Members Deploy (DVD)(Military OneSource)
- Operation Purple Camps (National Military Family Association)
If you have more tips or resources that might come in handy for helping a child overcome the anxiety inherent in moving, please share them below.