For adults, a big move to another town or state (or country) can be exciting – a new job, new community, and new opportunities. While we may miss our old home and friends, we know we are in control of our lives and a move usually feels like a leap into the future. For children, it is an entirely different experience. The older a child is, the more difficult a move will likely be. Parents can help ease the pain of separation and help a child adjust to the new home, neighborhood and life.
For babies and toddlers, a move may just mean getting used to a new house. This is still challenging for young children and parents should strive to pack their child’s room at the “old” house last and set up his new room first to give the child a safe place surrounded by his belongings as a “home base” in the new space. Depending on the personality and sensitivity of your child, it may take a while to get used to new smells, sounds, the way the light comes into the room and where things are in the new house. Take extra time to help your child get acclimated and provide familiar objects and “lovies” to help with the adjustment.
School-age children will experience the grief and loss of leaving a familiar school, teacher, friends and other activities, in addition to changes in the home environment. Work to prepare your child in advance for the move – there are many books available, so a trip to the library might be helpful. Also, show your child where the new town or house is on the map, you may even be able to look at the new neighborhood, school, etc. on the internet. Talking and processing are key in helping your child prepare for the move. When I moved my own elementary school-age children 2,500 miles across the country, their teachers were very cooperative and we actually incorporated the move into the classroom. The teachers showed the class where we were moving to and I brought in pictures and information about the new town. One teacher helped my daughter make an “autograph” book so all of her classmates could write their names, addresses and notes.
Encourage and help facilitate your child keeping in contact with friends and people left behind once you’ve arrived at your new home. This will most likely taper off as your child gets acclimated, but with email, instant messaging and telephone, keeping in contact isn’t difficult. One family I know who moved to another country, set up a family blog and posted pictures of their new home, city, etc. and wrote about activities. Friends “back home” were then able to post comments and pictures of their own.
To help your child get comfortable after the move, get involved in community activities as soon as possible. If you are a church-going family, find a new church as soon as possible; if your child plays a sport, musical instrument, takes dance, etc., enroll him or her as soon as you can. Activity provides a way to meet people and begin to feel involved in the community. It will also give you a chance to meet other families and start to get a feel for the social scene in your new neighborhood.
Expect to spend more time together as a family and set aside the time to do so. While you may be caught up in the changes of your own – new job, moving responsibilities (maybe you are still wrapping things up, selling a house or other tasks at your old home), it is important to spend more time together as a family while you are setting up a support system after the move. Your child won’t have the familiar friends and activities to occupy her time, so family time will be valuable. Children feel lost after a move if parents aren’t there to help fill the void while rebuilding a full life.
Teenagers will most likely have the most difficult time adjusting to a move. Adolescence is a very insecure time and changing schools, making new friends, trying to fit into an established social world, are all incredibly challenging for teens. Your awareness and support will be imperative, but it will be a fine line between support and interference. It is imperative to allow your child to maintain contact with old friends and support system. It is not true that going “cold turkey” will help him make new friends. Over time, he will meet children through activities and school, but maintaining old connections is healthy and will help him feel stronger in facing the new challenges.
You should expect that adjusting to a new home and community will take time with your children. Change and movement are a part of our modern life, but they are not necessarily easy. By paying attention to the needs of your children and family, you can help everyone transition to the new environment. While things will not be the way the used to be, they can still be wonderful – but it will take time.