The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 37.5 million people—12%of Americans—moved to a new town in 2010. That included 4.8 million children.
Even if it's for a great reason like buying a larger house or relocating near a better job, moving is tough. It’s common for families to schedule moves during the summer months, when their children don't have to deal with the extra stress of starting a new school in the middle of the year.
"The parents have the control over the move," child and family therapist Andie Weiner says. "We have to think about what we can do to make this transition as easy as possible."
Perhaps the hardest thing about a move is leaving old friends and starting over in a new environment. At this time, helping your children form new groups of friends will make the transition easier for everyone. Child psychologist Sylvia Rimm suggests setting a positive tone with your child by emphasizing what he can look forward to. Before the move, you can go online together and check out a map of the area you will soon call home, or look at the school’s website. Get him excited about activities at his new school, whether it’s the drama club or a big playground.
Here are nine more ideas to get kids excited about making new friends after moving:
- Explore your new town beforehand. If possible, Weiner suggests visiting the area around your new home a month or two before you move and looking for places your child would like. Find parks, the library and the swimming pool, and seek out where local kids spend their time.
- Go online and investigate summer camps and programs in your new community to find programs your kids would like. If your child is older, let him choose the activities. "Figure out what camps the local kids are involved in so they're likely to meet other kids that are in the same school," Rimm says.
- Take it easy. At first, schedule only one activity per child and let him decide if it’s successful. "Kids have been through a lot of changes when they're moving," says Lesia Oesterreich, an extension specialist at Iowa State University. "You want to give them time to get comfortable in their new home."
- Find out how many other children live in your neighborhood. A real estate agent may be able to help. "Having any sort of friends in the neighborhood is the best transition for kids because they can walk to their house," Weiner says.
- Contact your child's new school and ask if you can get a list of kids who will be in his class. This way, he’ll get a head start familiarizing himself with names. Rimm says this shouldn't be difficult if your child is in elementary school.
- Bring your children to greet the neighbors once you arrive. "If you see them outside, walk up and introduce yourself," Oesterreich says. Ask them about local kid-friendly events. If you're comfortable with it, you could invite them to your house for a meet and greet.
- Are you moving for a new job? Talk to your new coworkers who have children around the same age as yours and make plans to get together. "It's much easier for kids to make friends if their parents are friends," Rimm says.
- If you have a shy child, role-play with him about how to introduce himself to other kids. An opening line at the park can be as easy as, "Can I play on this swing?"
- Observing the kids in your new community will go a long way toward helping your children feel comfortable. Keep in mind that different children will fit in differently with other kids—tweens or teens already have a good idea of how involved they want to be.
Remember that it might take kids longer than you think to adjust to a new home. "There could be some stresses and anxiety for several months," Oesterreich says. "It could even be a year."
Weiner adds that it's important to check in with your child every so often to see how he’s handling the move. Knowing that you support and understand him, even when no one else does, can make a world of difference.