The Effects of Moving on Children, as Well as What You Can do to Help Them, Aren’t Always Clear
You might be prepared for some crying, whining or door slamming when you tell your kids that because the family has to relocate they’ll have to say goodbye to their bedroom, their school and their friends. But you can’t handle the effects of moving on kids the same way you usually calm them down: with their favorite blanket and a popsicle. For adults, moving is mostly a logistical challenge but for children it can be major emotional transition.
Making that transition can take months. “Moving is a real trauma for families,” says Sue Miller, author of But Mom, I Don’t Want to Move and After the Boxes are Unpacked , “even in good moves”. Your kids may not seem outwardly traumatized, but inside they may be wrestling with big issues. With all the hubbub that comes with relocating, even when your kids do let you know what’s bothering them, it can be hard to know exactly how to go about helping them cope with moving.
Luckily, once you step back and get to know what they’re dealing with, helping children with the transition of moving isn’t that hard. Below are some of the most important tips for parents relocating with kids in tow:
There are a lot of little tricks and tools you can use to mitigate the effects of moving on children, though there’s really only one big thing: pay attention. Miller, who has moved 14 times in her career, points out that it isn’t as easy at it sounds. “I got so busy with the task of moving, I was so wrapped up in packing and coordinating – as many parents are,” she says, “that I really pushed aside my kids and their feelings.” Without a parent’s interest, kids have to deal with their problems alone, which can end up compounding their anxieties.
When explaining the move to younger children, it can help to reiterate a few things adults take for granted: make sure they understand that even though they’re moving they’ll still have mommy and daddy, their siblings, the family pet and all their things.
Communication is vital.
Remember to talk to your kids about the relocation on an ongoing basis, not just once. Give them the space to express themselves and try not to assume you already know what they’re feeling. Moving affects every child differently.
When talking, keep your children up to date on the relocation process. Let them know when things are happening and why. Children thrive on stability and routine. Relocating drops a big question mark into their lives, but the more they know, the less anxious they’ll be.
Sometimes parents attempt to hype a move – promising that life will be so much better at the family’s new home – in the hopes of distracting their children from their negative feelings. Doing so, however, can raise a child’s expectations unrealistically and set them up from disappointment and bewilderment down the road.
When children deal with moving, they often become angry and sad for reasons that make little sense from your perspective; try not to judge or criticize them though. Giving children permission to feel angry or sad is one of the first steps in getting them through it. To help them gain a little perspective, share with them memories of when you’ve moved and how you’ve adjusted.
Anxiety over the prospect of making new friends is one of the most common effects of moving on children, and is especially common among older kids. Getting them involved in community programs like Cub Scouts, 4H or youth groups shortly after you settle into your new home can help ease their social transition. If they don’t feel comfortable socializing with other kids, it can help to coach them on the sorts of skills necessary to make friends.
Helping children with the transition of moving isn’t only about them; how you feel about relocating, and how you project your feelings, are also important. Children will pick up on your cues: if you’re nervous or regretful about moving, they will be to. Staying upbeat will reassure them about the process.
Kids are very visual.
If they can see the town, neighborhood or home that you’ll be moving into they’ll be able to size it up and come to grips with relocating. For that reason it can be helpful to either involve them in the home hunting process or, once you’ve selected a home, to take them for a pre-move visit.
As the pace around your home builds to a frenzy in the weeks and days before moving it will be harder and harder for you to find time to tend to your kids’ emotional needs. To keep them engaged, Miller advises giving them a job to do. “Give them simple, not overwhelming, tasks to perform,” she says, like gathering up all the library books or making a list of the people they want to say goodbye to. “Involving children will help them feel ownership of the moving process.”
As much as possible, try to maintain your family’s daily routine after moving. Though you might not notice all the little details, the routine your kids are used to helps to keep them on an even keel.