Imagine a wonderfully rare and beautiful plant growing in your garden. Started from seed, and nurtured daily, the plant has gradually unfolded year after year into a thing of beauty. Now imagine ripping it out of the ground by the roots, plopping it into a pot of unprepared soil, and demanding it to grow and flourish as it had before. This is what we, as parents, expect from our children when we ask them to move without adequate preparation or without acknowledgement of the difficulty for the child. Changing schools, neighborhoods, cities, states, and sometimes, even countries is much more traumatic than many parents might realize. The shock value to a child’s system is tremendous.
“Any parent who thinks that moving won’t affect a child is dead wrong,” according to Dr. Nathan M. Lubin, PhD, of New Orleans Louisiana, who has counseled numerous children and their families on this often overlooked trauma. “Parents need to be aware that this can be a serious problem for even the most well-adjusted child in the most normal of family situations.”
Moving creates significant stress for parents. There’s a home to sell and a new home to buy or rent. Not to mention a change of job, packing, unpacking and then learning your way around a new neighborhood. What parents might not realize is that it is also an extremely stressful time for a child.
Many times we brush a child’s concerns about moving aside. We say, “Kids are adaptable. They’ll make new friends.” We take time to prepare ourselves for all the inevitable changes – we find new banks, doctors, daycare providers and even veterinarians. If we are moving to a new country, we might even spend time learning a new language. We need to take the same amount of time to help prepare our children for the transition.
“One of the worse things you can do is not tell the child,” states Lubin, who also sites moving as one of the cornerstones for future psychological problems.
Moving Means Breaking Friendships
Loneliness is not a natural state for most children. During pre-adolescence children are forming important social relationships. When those early relationships are severed, the child can suffer a feeling of rejection and isolation. Without the coping skills to deal with these emotions the child could then, in turn, have difficulty forming new social relationships, forming a hard-to-break cycle.
Moving Means Change
Moving from a small school in the country to a large school in a big city (or reverse) means more than just a change of teachers and classrooms. There are bound to be cultural, behavioral and many times, even language differences for your child to assimilate. Dialects, wardrobe, even music….no sphere of a child’s world is left unaffected by a move so why should we expect the child to be unaffected? Parents, by working with their children before the move, can not only alleviate many future problems before they take root, but can also help to reduce some of their own personal anxiety about the many changes taking place within the family.
Recognize Your Child’s Potential For Stress
All ages of children will be affected to some degree by a family move. Age, individual temperament of the child and circumstances of the move, will have a lot to do with the way your child adapts. If your child is below the age of one year, you can most likely expect a seamless transition. Any child older than that will need to make adjustments of some kind. Younger children may experience regression in certain areas. Sleep patterns may be disrupted. Eating habits may go awry. Older children may suffer personality changes from mild to the extreme. Be aware of the warning signs that something is bothering your child such as depression, withdrawal, irritability or sleeping more or less than usual.
Listen To Your Child’s Fears
If your child is vocalizing certain fears about the move, take time to listen. Don’t label any fear as foolish or irrational. Help your child find positive things about the move such as a bigger bedroom or a nearby pool. Encourage your child to talk about their concerns. In general, the older a child is, the more difficult of a time they will have making adjustments. The importance of the peer group and the loss of their own place within the group increases the possibility for anxiety.
Expand Your Child’s Education
If you are moving to a new state or country, use this as an opportunity to expand your child’s education. Subscribe to the local paper and read it with your child. Take a trip to the library for books about your new home. Enlist the help of travel bureaus for brochures and maps that your child can study. If you are moving out of the country be sure to explore the differences in wardrobe, music and food – three major concerns of most children of any age.
Involve Your Child In The Move
Make your child a part of as much of the decision-making process as possible. Take them with you to go look for a new home. Allow them to pick the colors of their new bedroom, no matter what you might think. Make them responsible for packing and unpacking their room.
Show Your Child By Example
Preparing yourself for the move will give you the strength and skills needed to pass on to your child. Upon arrival at your new home, take your child with you when you introduce yourself to your neighbors. By making the move a family adventure rather than something to dread, the transitional process can become a positive growth experience and increase your child’s self-confidence.
10 Tips for Preparing Your Child to Move
1. If possible, take the child with you when looking for a new home. Take lots of pictures. Make an album of the neighborhood.
2. Try to meet their new teacher. Or go by the new school and walk around the grounds. Experience as much as of the new environment before the move.
3. Walk or drive the route your child can be expected to take back and forth from school. Help your child prepare a map. Encourage your child to decorate the map with their own landmarks.
4. If your child will be attending day care of any kind, the sooner they can meet the provider, the easier that transition will be for them.
5. Try to meet neighborhood children ahead of time and get pictures. Exchange addresses so your child can write to them before the move. If you can’t find any of the children ahead of time, contact the school and ask the teacher to arrange for a penpal who will be in your child’s class.
6. If your child is currently involved in a hobby like skating, drill team, dancing, music lessons—get information about the availability of those activities near your new home. Contact the leaders of these groups to help link your child up with other child with the same interests.
7. Get your child an address book and a disposable camera for your child. Make sure that every address, no matter how silly you might think it, is written down. They may never write to anyone listed, but knowing they can if they want might make a difference. Havethem take lots of pictures the things and people that are important to them.
8. Get some books about moving for your child to read.
9. Have a box of warm fuzzies ready for your child during the move and upon arrival. Favorite stuffed toys, blankets, pillow and snacks will all ease the pangs of homesickness.
10. Have a “Getting to Know You Party” for all the nearby children. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be done as soon as possible after the move.