Helping Children Adjust to a Move
My parents moved our family from a small town to a large city during Christmas break of my fourth grade year. I remember being excited about our new larger house and prettier neighborhood. I was leaving behind a close group of friends I had known since kindergarten, but was looking forward to meeting my new classmates. Unfortunately, my new classmates were not interested in meeting me. In fact, all the children had established friend groups, leaving me, the “new girl,” on the sidelines.
Fortunately, that next summer I made friends in the neighborhood and my 5th grade year was one of my best. But that four-month stretch of being the kid with the cooties was tough.
Michelle Borba, Ed.D., Today Show contributor, recipient of the National Educator Award, states in her book, “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions,” that moving is one of the more stressful events in the life of a family, whether the move is across the street or across the country.
“Although moving is a common event that happens to one out of five families each year,” she writes, “just the thought of being uprooted and making such a major change can be unsettling as well as even frightening to a child. Research shows that a big mistake parents make is not realizing just how upsetting a move can be for kids.”
Tracy Sanford was well aware of the stress moving might cause her two boys, Will, 7, and Sam, 9, especially since the move would be the result of a divorce. “We took a long time to transition them to the new living arrangements,” Tracy said.
Instead of disrupting the family home by splitting up furnishings, her ex-husband decided to completely furnish the house he rented nearby where the boys would be spending half their time.
“I stayed in our original house for a year after we separated,” Tracy said. In this way the boys were able to have time to transition to dad’s new house and the family’s new routine.
When Tracy realized she would have to move to a smaller, less expensive house or go back to work full time, she opted for the former. “I decided it was better to change a house than to change to less time with mom,” said Tracy, a social worker who is employed part time.
When looking for a new house she made sure she involved the boys in the search—an action Borba recommends: “Allowing some choices will help your kid feel more like a participant with control in the process.”
Once Tracy and the boys found a house they liked, Tracy began the gradual transition to the new house.
“I took possession two weeks before we had to be out of our larger house,” Tracy said. “I used the time to paint and set up the kitchen and the boys’ rooms, including linens on the beds.”
She felt that having the bedrooms and the kitchen in place before the boys arrived would make them feel more settled in their new surroundings.
Despite Tracy’s efforts there were still bumps in the road.
“The youngest had the most trouble,” Tracy said. “The first night he wanted to go to his dad’s house saying, ‘This is not my home.’ We talked about it and I explained that all our things were here and that this was our new house.”
“Moving is hard,” Sam, age 9, acknowledged. “I mean, it is all new and you’re not so used to the house. We had more space in our old house. But once we got used to it we started liking it.”
Sam’s favorite parts of the new location are his bedroom and friends in the neighborhood.
“My bedroom has got good colors and I got to put my bed where I want it,” he said. “It’s kind of scary at first because you don’t know anybody [in the neighborhood]. Once you start to make friends and know who all the people are, it’s fine.”
Tracy said she made an effort to meet the neighbors and was pleased when the boys found children to play with in the neighborhood right away. The boys didn’t have to change schools, so their friends, teachers and school routine remained stable.
When asked if he had any advice for children moving to a new house Sam, said confidently, “I would tell them, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Once you stay there for a night, you’ll get used to it.’”
Here are some tips from Michelle Borba Ed.D. for helping your child adjust after a move:
• Tour the house and celebrate new beginnings.
Find a special way or ritual to celebrate your new home and the move. Plant a tree, take a photo of your whole family in the new house, hold a special celebration dinner.
• Visit the Surroundings.
Help your kids get acquainted with their new community. Go to the local library, park, school, etc. Take your child for a visit to preview her new school.
• Provide continuity.
Stick to your normal family routine, especially those first few days after the move: favorite dinners, TV shows, nighttime stories. It will help your child to recognize that although the house is different, basic family routines will remain unchanged.
• Help your kid blend in.
Clothes, haircuts, shoe styles and accessories really do matter in helping kids gain peer approval, and communities do have their own cultures. So visit your kids’ school (if possible even before the move) and study the appearance of the kids your child is most likely to associate with. Dose your kids dress like them? If not, help her revamp her wardrobe so that she blends in.
• Acknowledge feelings.
If your child doesn’t readily share her feelings, you can help her recognize how she feels about the move: “You must be feeling lonely and miss your old group.” “I can see you are worried.” “It’s tough to join a new team when you don’t know any of the kids.” Let her know such feelings are normal. Stress to your child that adjustment takes awhile.
• Befriend other parents.
Be a room parent as soon as you can, offer to carpool, sign up to coach, be the team mom, help out with the church group, attend PTA meetings and other school functions. Introduce yourself to neighbors.
• Find outlets for your kid that attracts peers.
Look everywhere for opportunities for your child to meet other kids: scouting, park and recreation programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, teen clubs, church groups, sports teams, library programs, etc. Your goal is to help our kids find ways to meet new kids. Making the friends is her job – helping her find potential new friends is your role.