When Families Move: Helping Children Adjust (page 2)
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.
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.
Three phases of the move - before, during, and after - and three environments - educational, social, and family - should be considered.
Before the Move
- Timing the move is important. Parents should carefully consider their options when faced with the decision to move. Certain moves may be inevitable, as when a parent must transfer jobs, or impossible to predict, as when a parent dies. But when circumstances allow for flexibility, it is often better to postpone or avoid a move at certain transitional times, such as when a teen is a junior in high school, or immediately following a divorce. Some people find that moving mid year enables children to take the second part of the school year to adjust, while others find that starting fresh in the fall when change typically happens is easier. When timing is not ideal, options may be possible to ease the strain, such as having a high school student remain in town with a friend or relative to finish out the year. The pros and cons for all those involved must be carefully weighed, and when an older child is affected, the child's wishes should be considered.
- Talk about the decision. Explain the reason for the move in language appropriate to the child's age. If the move is for the better, explain how it will affect the children for the better. If the move will mean difficult changes, parents must be honest about things that will and will not change. For older children, include them, if possible, in any decision making. Although children may not have veto power about the move, allow them control over certain areas of their life such as the color of their new bedroom or the choice of after-school activities.
- Of course, whenever possible, children should visit the new home and town before the move. If this is not possible, obtaining a video or having friends or a real estate agent send pictures via the Internet will help children visualize their new home, make the decision real, and help them plan the living arrangements.
- Older children may enjoy using the Internet to research their new home. Map Quest and visitor's bureau information sites can get them involved, interested, and looking forward to self-designed adventures.
- It can be helpful to plan the first visit back home before setting out. Children will be less likely to feel alone if they are able to look forward to getting back together with friends.
- Be prepared for difficult reactions and be careful not to succumb to bribes or threats. Children are often naturally upset and angry about a move. Parents should not sugar coat or minimize their reactions, nor should they avoid a child's negativity. Some leniency may creep in - extra time spent on the computer or watching TV - however, it is important to set limits on behavior and acting out, but it is also important to accept their sadness.
- For children with special needs , parents should plan ahead for referrals and resources. Maintaining consistent services and proactively setting up systems for children with educational, medical, or mental health needs can ease the transition, help maintain progress, and deal with problems resulting from the move. Current tutors, teachers, mental health and medical professionals should be consulted and asked for recommendations and help in obtaining services in the new location.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.