When Families Move: Helping Children Adjust (page 3)

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

During the Moving Process

  • It can be tempting to literally "clean house" when moving. But this should be done gingerly with respect to children's possessions. Discarding old toys or unused items may be warranted at the time of a move, but the loss of material things may overwhelm some children. Better to help them sort out the bulk of their things once they've moved in when they can feel more in control of their new environment.
  • For young children and toddlers, put their furniture on the moving van last so that it is first to unload. This will help orient them quickly to the new surroundings.
  • Have children of all ages pack a bag of essential, favorite, "can't live without" things to keep with them at all times.

After the move - it's time to attend to school, social and family life

  • Scheduling some trips away from the new home may actually help establish the new base. It becomes the place to "come home to" and enhances the sense of familiar place that is needed.
  • Have children invite friends from their old hometown for a visit. This can help the child make decisions about what is new and fun and give the child a chance to "show off" the new place. It also helps the child get an oft-needed dose of validation from old buddies.
  • Access religious and community organizations. They can provide a ready structure of activities, contacts, and resources for the whole family. If the family was involved with similar groups before, participating in such activities in the new location can increase feelings of familiarity.
  • Encourage children to become involved in a sports team. Teams provide a ready-made group of peers on a regular basis. It becomes easier for a child to then say 'hi' and to avoid feeling like a stranger in the lunchroom. Parents can invite the team over for ice cream or pizza to help the child build new relationships. In this way parents can get to know parents of new peers.
  • A school club or group is another activity to be encouraged for children. Not only does this provide the benefit of a ready group of peers with a similar interests; it offers an adult contact for the child and for the parent as well. Most parents and children can find some type of organized, existing activity that will meet a child's needs; a child who is mechanical may do well on the technical crew of the drama club. It may be important to think beyond the traditional orchestra, soccer team, and chess club.
  • Older children and teens can also benefit from volunteer work or a job that does not interfere with their academic responsibilities. These activities can help integrate them into the community at large, provide access to new people, and increase a sense of confidence.
  • Parents should also access their own network to gain information about the local culture for themselves and their children. Especially with teens, who are more apt to be on their own without adult supervision, it is important for parents to know where teens hang out, what's safe, what pitfalls to avoid.
  • Parents should not be surprised if their child shows improvement outside of home before having a changed attitude with the family. It is important to be in contact with the school and other areas in which children or teens are involved to monitor their progress in making the transition. Children who are still sullen or angry at the parents about the move at home may in fact be making a good transition in school and showing signs of acceptance and integration. It is also vital to be aware of how children are adjusting so that parents or other adults can intervene to help a child if necessary.
  • The Internet is a mixed blessing for children in such situations. E-mail to far away friends helps a child stay connected to a support system and provides an outlet for talking about the new home and experiences. But, when a child spends long periods of time chatting with friends "back home" it can decrease the motivation to become involved with the new community and interfere with the adjustment to new friends.
  • Be patient, some children will dive in, develop a support network of friends, and become involved with school and activities without missing a beat. Other kids may need more time and help to feel acclimated and at ease. Providing them with new experiences in new places will help them in the future when they make decisions for themselves about where to live.

When parents are sensitive to the impact of moving on their children, they can make moving a positive experience, enhancing children's emotional growth, adaptability, self-confidence and social skills.

References and related books

Battles, Hassles, Tantrums and Tears: Strategies for Coping with Conflict and Making Peace at Home, S. Beekman and J. Holmes, 1993, Hearst Books

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About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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