Every year, one out of five families in the U.S. move to a new town or city. Moving can be an extremely stressful time in a child's life. Many adults report that moving was their single most disruptive childhood experience.
Why is moving so difficult?
Your child has to say goodbye to almost everything that makes him feel safe: his home, his school, and his friends. At the same time, he has to anticipate and then participate in making new friends, attending a new school, and living in a different home -- all in an unfamiliar environment.
You, too, are likely concerned about separation, changes in your routine, developing new friends, and feeling comfortable in your new house and hometown. These feelings can give you an inkling of what your children are feeling, and can help provide you with empathy for them.
Tips for creating a successful family move:
1. Tell truthful but very positive stories about where you are moving. Children whose parents have negative feelings about moving are more likely to have a difficult adjustment period.
2. While you want to keep a positive attitude, don't ignore your child's worries and sorrows. Acknowledge their uncertainty around losing friends, making new friends, and leaving behind their activities, sports teams, and teachers. Expect your child to feel sad at times -- before, during, or after the move. Don't try to take his feelings away.
3. Share with him a time you moved or made a transition and how you felt. Remember to tell him how it turned out in the end (hopefully for the better).
4. Encourage your child to say goodbye to his friends. Perhaps he can make an album and his friends can write something next to their pictures.
5. Remind your child that he will be able to keep in touch through e-mail and phone calls -- and that he can "make new friends but keep the old."
6. Plan a going-away party and let him invite his own guests.
7. Tell your child in advance about the new home. Show him pictures and videos of the town and home if possible. Have your child research online recreational activities in the town, as well as school-related clubs and teams.
Now that you've moved:
8. Allow your child to make small but important decisions. For example, he can help select furniture or decorate his room. Take him to the paint store and let him bring home color swatches.
9. Explore the new neighborhood together to find new and exciting things, including after-school activities, that he is excited to try. Explore sights and recreation centers.
10. Arrange a visit to the school before it's in session (assuming it's a summer move) so he can get his bearings. Ask the school if your child can be paired with a willing and friendly buddy to get him acquainted.
11. Encourage your child to bring new friends home, and encourage relationships with schoolmates. Befriend your neighbors and parents at the school. Help your child get involved in sports teams or clubs.
12. Keep an open dialogue with your child. Expect that he may be more distressed after the move than before. The house, neighborhood, and school may not feel like "home" for a long time.
13. Remind your child that new friends will soon feel like old friends. Right now it's hard to imagine, but in the long run, everything will work out fine.
14. Check in with your child's teachers about how he is adjusting. If you feel he isn't adjusting well, speak to the teachers, school administrators, and school counselors. If you notice the following symptoms, you should seek professional help: isolation, lack of appetite (or increased appetite), problems sleeping, excessive nightmares, behavioral problems, or extreme sadness.
The good news is that for most kids, the negative effects of moving are temporary. Most children adjust quickly, make friends, and bounce back to their previous level at school.
|Dr. Cara Gardenswartz is a licensed clinical psychologist who provides therapy to individuals and couples and runs psychotherapy groups. Her expertise include relationships, depression, anxiety, life transitions, trauma and addiction. She has over 16 years of education, training, and experience in her field. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to earn her Master's and Doctorate in Psychology at the UCLA. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.|