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When Families Move: Helping Children Adjust

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Introduction: why and how

Moving to a new community can be an exciting but sometimes difficult event for a child and a family, depending on the circumstances For example, different issues are raised if the move is due to a parent's promotion rather than divorce, death, or change of family income. Similarly, a child's ability to cope is different if the family is in the military and moving is a necessary and repeated part of life compared to a family moving only once. The logistics of the move also influence a child's adjustment; moving across town is far less complicated than a move across the country. For many moving is a positive experience, as it brings the opportunity to develop new friendships, pursue new interests, increase social confidence, and learn important lessons about adapting to change. If parents are positive about the move, children will have an easier time adjusting. Following is a guide for managing the different issues facing parents and children when they move.

Age Matters

A child's age and general personality affect how the child will deal with moving. Some children adapt easily to new situations; others may need more time to make a gradual adjustment.

  • Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are not able to comprehend the meaning of the move or complex explanations. They are affected more by the reactions and availability of their caretakers. They do best when things are predictable; thus keeping to a routine with familiar things and people eases the transition for them. Avoid making other changes at the same time as the move, such as toilet training or transfer to a new bed, so as not to overwhelm and confuse a young child.
  • Children in kindergarten or first grade may be vulnerable because they are in the process of separating from their parents and adjusting to new authority figures and social relationships. They may temporarily regress to behaviors typical of an earlier stage and become more dependent on their parents.
  • School-age children are likely to be concerned about fitting in with new peers and dealing with different academic demands. Their general personality and social style may influence their ease in adjustment. They may also be better able to tolerate the new kid jitters if a sibling will be at the same school.
  • Teens will be able to understand the nuances of the decision to move, but may also be resistant to change. At a time when they are establishing important relationships outside of the family, they may feel the move threatens their evolving identity. Thus the move can be disruptive to the stability they have already established with a core group of friends or with an athletic or academic path they are pursuing.
  • Some children will actually thrive in the new environment depending on the circumstances of the move, an accepting peer group, and a supportive mentoring adult network.  Some children may actually thrive in the new environment depending on the circumstances of the move, an accepting peer group, and a supportive mentoring adult network.
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