By Connect with Kids
“There’s that sense that [kids feel] ‘I’ve lost my family, my friends, my base, my school, teachers -- everything I knew that made me feel safe and secure is all gone now. I have to start over.’”
– Dr. Tim Jordan, pediatrician
One in five American families will move this year. Research shows that moving is one of the most stress-producing events a family can go through. Experts say it can be especially hard for children. How do you help your child adjust to the changes?
The Ricardos moved from their old house to a new home. Same family, same dog -- but it was hard on 9-year-old Elena.
“I hated my room. I hated the house. I hated everything,” says Elena, 9.
She hated leaving her friends the most.
“I was so emotional. I mean, saying goodbye to all my friends … my very close friend, who was my neighbor, just saying goodbye to them made me so sad,” says Elena.
For some kids, the emotional stress of moving is not much different than the emotions when someone has died.
“There’s that sense that, ‘I’ve lost my family, my friends, my base, my school, teachers -- everything I knew that made me feel safe and secure is all gone now. I have to start over,’” says Dr. Tim Jordan, pediatrician.
Starting over is exactly Dr. Jordan’s advice. Make newfriends, get involved at the new school and in the new neighborhood. He says that’s what Elena’s parents need to encourage her to do.
“One of the things that will be important for her is to find somebody, some people, some groups that she can feel connected to,” says Dr. Jordan.
And that’s what Elena’s sister Hallie is doing.
“Hi. Is Judy there?” asks Hallie, calling a new friend on the phone.
“You can’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring. You have to take the initiative. You have to say, ‘let’s go out sometime, let’s do something.’ Or, ‘I want to join the chorus. I want to be in the school play.’ You have to take the initiative,” says Hallie, 14.
With an older sister as a role model, parents who are patient and some effort on her part, before long Elena’s new house will feel like home.
Tips for Parents
Moving to a new community may be one of the most stress-producing experiences a family faces. Frequent moves or even a single move can be especially hard on children and adolescents. (American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, AACAP)
To make the move easier on children, parents may take these steps: (AACAP)
Explain clearly to the children why the move is necessary.
Familiarize the children as much as possible with the new area with maps, photographs and/or the daily newspaper.
Describe advantages of the new location that the child might appreciate such as a lake, mountain or an amusement park.
After the move, get the children involved in activities at the local church or synagogue, PTA, scouts, YMCA, etc.
If a son or daughter is a senior in high school, consider the possibility of letting him or her stay with a trusted family until the school year is over.
Let children participate in designing or furnishing their room.
Help children keep in touch with friends from the previous neighborhood through telephone, letters, e-mail, and personal visits.
The more frequently a family moves, the more important is the need for internal stability. With the proper attention from parents, and professional help if necessary, moving can be a positive growth experience for children, leading to increased self-confidence and interpersonal skills. (AACAP)
If the child shows persistent signs of depression or distress, parents can ask their family doctor, their pediatrician or the local medical society to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. The psychiatrist can evaluate and treat the child's emotional problems that may be associated with stress and also help parents make the transition and new experience easier for the whole family. (AACAP)
American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)