Moving can be stressful for every member of the family—children included. Depending on the age of children, their fears about a move vary from child to child, but most children approach the idea of moving with some hesitation.
One out of five Canadian families move into a new home each year. Some families experience a stressful time two weeks before and two weeks after a move. For many families, the actual move is a time when everyone pitches in and works together. Reality starts to sink in about a month later. People then begin to realize how much they miss friends and places they left behind. Confusion, frustration, and anger are common emotions at this time. Even if you are upgrading to a bigger house in a nicer neighbourhood, adjusting can be very difficult.
If the move is coupled with financial problems, a death or divorce, this can makes the anxiety worse, stretching children's coping skills to the limit. Short-term counseling may help children through this challenging time. It often takes as long as two years before children begin to feel comfortable in their new home.
No matter what the reason for a move, coping is especially tough for kids. Small children thrive on predictability and their sense of security is closely tied to familiar faces, places and activities. Older children will feel the social impact of a move the most. They miss old friends and worry about making new ones. For pre-teens and teens, fitting in is of the utmost importance and having to re-establish themselves in a new and possibly very different social environment is a scary prospect.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make the move easier on your kids.
1. Share the news
As soon as a decision has been made to move, share it with your children. Encourage your child to discuss the future transition by asking questions such as, "What have you been thinking about the new place?" Make a list of your child's concerns and together try to find answers to the questions. When speaking about the move, be enthusiastic and upbeat so that your children will view moving as an exciting adventure.
2. Encourage your child to participate in moving decisions and preparations
Consult with your child about the décor of his or her new room. Let your child pick the paint colour, the fabric for curtains and bedspread, and choose posters for the walls. Younger children typically resist change of any kind. If this is the case with your child, it may help to replicate the décor and furniture arrangement of his or her old room as closely as possible.
3. Move during the right time of year
Sometimes, holding off your move can be difficult, especially when it comes to job situations. The start of the school year is often the ideal time to schedule a move since it will offer your children the most exposure to neighbourhood kids. Chances are that there will be more than one "new kid" in school. If your child does not want any added attention, this will help him or her blend in with the rest of the student body. It is also best to avoid switching in the middle of the year, as this may affect your child's grades.
4. Allow your children ample time to say goodbye to their friends before your move
Although the days leading up to the move will certainly be a bit hectic, a going away party can really help your child cope with moving. One of the main objectives to coping with any type of situation is finding closure. Saying goodbye to friends is very important if you want to help your child better cope with moving. Encourage children to exchange addresses and telephone numbers so that they can keep in touch after the move. Remember, your children's friends will feel a loss after the move too.
5. Make meeting new friends easier for your child
The best way to help your child cope with moving is to make meeting new friends easier. Allowing and even encouraging your child to invite friends over to the house is a great way help your child make new friends. If you move during the summer, you may want to help your child find new friends. Whether your child meets other children from the new neighbourhood, the park, the public swimming pool or anywhere else, you will be able to feel comfort knowing that your child has made some new friends—which is a major step in coping with a move.
6. Let your child know it is natural to feel apprehensive
He or she may be fearful of not being accepted by peers. Share childhood memories of times when you were worried about a new situation. Relate the good things that happened like how you met your best friend or that your new teacher was one of your favourites. Keep the days leading up to the transition as positive as possible.
7. Encourage your child to participate in after school activities
It is believed that children who participate in after school activities feel as though they fit in better, mainly because they feel as though they "belong". Encouraging your child to join a group, club or organization of his or her choice is a great idea. It just may be one of the best ways for your child to find new friends or experience some sense of belonging. After school activities may be one of the main keys for a child to cope with a move.
8. Invite your child to express his or her emotions
Even when a concern seems minor to you, be respectful and know that it can be a major crisis to your child. Try to put yourself in his or her place and understand the feelings expressed. Ask open ended questions like, "How's it going?" or make comments like, "You seem sad". Then listen carefully and avoid giving advice unless your child asks for it.
9. Help your child explore ways to cope with concerns
Try to always be available for further discussion. Be ready to problem-solve with him or her. You may want to role play a situation that is causing anxiety.
10. Allow your child to call or visit old friends
Allowing your child to visit, or converse with, old friends is a very important step to coping with the move. Whether it is during the weekend or during a week in the summer, if you move far away, visits with old friends may be necessary. There are going to be some instances in which your child may want someone to confide in about the move. It is also important to keep in mind that your child's new friends will never replace his or her old friends. Overall, it is definitely safe to say that allowing visits with old friends can be a very important step in coping with moving.
11. Monitor your child's progress
It is important to keep in mind that there is only so much that you can do in order to encourage your child to cope with moving. Monitoring your child's progress of coping can be very important. If you notice that your child experiences behavioural changes, does not seem to make friends after you have been settled for awhile, is unwilling to participate in after school activities and seems a bit depressed, then there just may be cause for alarm. If your child does not seem to be coping well with moving, visiting a therapist may be a good idea.
In general, younger children will adjust more quickly to a move than older children. Babies and toddlers may feel a bit out of sorts in a new environment, but they will adapt very quickly. Preschoolers have established comfortable routines and usually have a few favourite places, such as the park or the local zoo. If they express worries about missing these places, assure them that there will be plenty of fun things to do near the new house too. School aged children often have very specific concerns about living in a new place and may have questions such as, "Where will I keep my toys?" and "Will my new teacher be nice?" Remind them about times that they have had similar worries in the past, such as when they first started school and how everything turned out just fine. Saying things like, "Remember when you were scared that you wouldn't like your teacher this year? Now you love Mrs. Brown. I'm sure that you will do just fine at your new school too."
Teenagers often have the most difficulty in adjusting, especially if the move means that they will be too far away to see their current friends. A teenager's world revolves largely around their friendships, and breaking those bonds can be traumatic. Most teens are able to make the adjustment, but expect the transition to take a while—six months to a year is typical.
Moving is stressful for everyone. But it is particularly stressful for children because they don't know as many ways to cope with a new situation. Trying some of these tried-and-true methods may ease up your child’s apprehension and help him/her cope better with the stress of the new move.