Moving to a new city, state or country can be a real challenge for parents. But as difficult as it may be for adults, for different reasons, it can be harder on the kids. When a move is in the works, kids may need extra attention to help them adjust to and accept this life-altering change. After all, this isn’t something children typically have any say in.
Sometimes, parents don’t have a lot of say either. Economic necessity is the number one reason families move. New opportunities or better pay can make the decision for you when finances have been tight or non-existent.
What can you do to help your child cope with the transition? Even if you aren’t happy with the move yourself, try to maintain a positive attitude. During times like these, kids will look to their parents for re-assurance and guidance.
No matter what the circumstances, the most important way to prepare kids for a move is to talk about it.
Try to give them as much information about the move as soon as possible. Answer questions completely and truthfully, and be receptive to both positive and negative reactions. Even if the move means an improvement in family life, kids don't always understand that and may be focused on the frightening aspects of the change.
When you can, involve your child in the house hunting and the search for a new school. The more they feel involved in the process, the less foreign and frightening it becomes.
Exploring the new neighborhood will give your child and you the opportunity to see what’s available. Is there a park nearby? A mall? An interesting outdoor venue? Are there community sports or arts programs for kids? A public or community pool? Checking out the neighborhood can give everyone a sense of wanting to belong before the move is actually made.
For distant moves, provide as much information as you can about the new home, city, and state (or country). Access the Internet to learn about the community. Learn where kids can participate in favorite activities. See if a relative, friend, or even a real estate agent can take pictures of the new house and new school for your child.
Children who haven’t started school may be the easiest to move. Your guidance is still important. Here are some transition tips for moving with toddlers and preschoolers:
• Keep explanations clear and simple.
• Use a story to explain the move, or use toy trucks and furniture to act it out.
• When you pack your toddler's toys in boxes, make sure to explain that you aren't throwing them away.
• If your new home is nearby and vacant, go there to visit before the move and take a few toys over each time.
• Hold off on getting rid of your child's old bedroom furniture, which may provide a sense of comfort in the new house. It might even be a good idea to arrange furniture in a similar way in the new bedroom.
• Avoid making other big changes during the move, like toilet training or advancing a toddler to a bed from a crib.
• Arrange for your toddler or preschooler to stay with a babysitter on moving day.
Children in elementary school may be somewhat open to a move, although leaving their friends will be difficult for them to accept.
There are two schools of thought about "the right time to move." Some experts say that summer is the best time because it avoids disrupting the school year. Others say that midyear is better because a child can meet other kids right away.
Sometimes the choice is made for you when your job demands a sudden move or there is a family emergency or occurrence that requires relocation. Either way, kids already in school are going to need some help adjusting.
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.
It’s important to let your child express his or her emotions about the big changes in their life. Acknowledge their sadness about leaving behind friends and familiar places. Let them know you are sympathetic and that you understand that he or she might feel nervous about what awaits them, whether it is the new people, the new school or the new bus ride. At the same time, tell her your child you will try to make the move as easy as possible for the entire family, and emphasize some of the positive aspects of living in a new place.
This is an opportunity for your family to live in and learn about a new city, perhaps even a new country, and its people. He or 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 can benefit from the move.
A move is probably hardest on teenagers. Your teen has probably invested considerable energy in a particular social group and might be involved in a romantic relationship. A move may mean that your teen will miss a long-awaited event, like a prom.
It's particularly important to let teens know that you want to hear their concerns and that you respect them. While blanket assurances may sound dismissive, it's legitimate to suggest that the move can serve as rehearsal for future changes, like college or a new job. However, also be sure to let them know that you hear their concerns.
Before the move, you may want to consider having a going-away party. It’s good for everyone to have the opportunity to say goodbye and spend time with long cherished friends and family members. Once a move is made, help your children keep in touch with their old friends. When possible, consider planning a visit back to the old neighborhood.
If your child seems to be having a particularly difficult time adjusting to their new school and surroundings, consider finding a family counselor that can help everyone get objective and third-party guidance during the adjustment phase.
Eventually you and your children will make new friends, find new interests and the new place will begin to feel like home again.