Moving can be hard for kids, just as it can be hard for adults. Some children bounce back faster than others, but all children feel the impact of a relocation when it occurs. As a parent, understanding the pain and difficulty that your child may be going through after a relocation – and taking proactive steps to help your child adjust to his or her new environment – can make your relocation easier for you and your little one.
Why Moves Are Difficult for Children
Moving is disruptive to children on many levels. For older children, moving forces them to break ties with friends and leave people they may have known a long time. Familiar settings are comforting to most children, and entering unfamiliar territory can be difficult.
Even children who are flexible and social can feel the stress of moving because their parents feel the stress of moving. Relocations could cause tensions and difficulty at home, which can produce anxiety for any child. Children who relocate can experience recurrent feelings of isolation, stress, sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness and anxiety.
What You Can Do to Help
1. Keep children informed throughout the process.
Most children feel better if they know what’s coming next. Once you have told your child that a move is coming, keep him or her informed of important dates and events. When will the move take place? What must happen first, second, third and fourth, and so on, before the move is done? What will your expectations be for your child? What can your child do to help? Be descriptive as you discuss the timeline of your upcoming relocation. The more information you provide, the more your child will feel like a part of the process, and the easier it may be for him or her to anticipate the future.
2. Provide stability.
Routines help kids predict what will happen to them, which can alleviate anxiety. You can provide that stability by preserving your child’s routines throughout your move. Maintain consistent bedtimes, make familiar foods for meals at home, and get your child up at the same time each day. This shows your child that, even as the world changes, some things always stay the same.
3. Explore your new community together.
Once you have relocated, begin exploring your community. This keeps your child busy while adjusting to the new normal. Show your child the benefits of the new home and surroundings by finding activities that he or she specifically would enjoy.
4. Let your child make decisions.
Children feel comfort in knowing they have some control over themselves and their environment. Lack of control that comes from a relocation can make the adjustment harder. Fortunately, you can restore some of that control by allowing your child to make some of his or her decisions throughout the relocation process. For example, allow your child to choose a room in your new home. If you will be painting the walls, let him or her pick the color. Give your child the chance to choose new decor (if he or she wants new decor). If your kids are old enough, let them pack their belongings and decide for themselves what they’ll be keeping and what they’ll be throwing away.
5. Get your child involved.
Help your child meet people in your new community by signing him or her up for activities in the area. Camps, crafts, sports teams, community theater projects and other communitywide organized events are wholesome, fun activities that can help your child grow and thrive in the unfamiliar surroundings. Talk to your child about the nearby activities, and then let him or her pick the ones that seem the most interesting. Don’t overwhelm your child, but do encourage him or her to be active, at least until school begins. If you’ve moved in the middle of the school year, encourage your child to sign up for an after school or extracurricular activity that will give him or her the chance to meet people and potentially make friends.
6. Support your child’s friendships – new and old.
Speaking of friendships, old friends and new friends are important. Help your child connect with old friends by mailing letters, encouraging phone calls and doing whatever else is necessary to foster existing relationships. When your child makes new friends, offer to host them for dinners and sleepovers. Do what is needed to help your child cultivate new relationships. The sooner your child finds new friends in your area, the sooner he or she could begin to feel at home.
Fortunately, most children are resilient. Parents can help by playing a supporting role. Keeping your child informed throughout the move, giving your child some control over his or her environment, and fostering new relationships with other children are ways to help your child throughout the moving process.
Author Bio: Mark Schusteff is Facilities Manager at Winnetka Community House, a unique nonprofit organization that provides educational, cultural, social and recreational opportunities for people of all ages. He has more than 20 years of experience in the industry and focuses on management of all facility operations of the Community House.