There’s no getting around it — even if it’s a welcome change, moving is stressful. Experts note that while adults tend to focus on the details and tasks involved, children are much more likely to focus on the anxiety of unfamiliar situations and on the things they feel they are losing. With less experience coping with change, kids may feel overwhelmed at the idea of a new house, new school, and new friends. Here are some tips for helping kids make a smoother transition to new digs.
Before and During the Move
Tell your child about the move as soon as possible. Parents may delay the announcement of a move both to have one less thing to worry about and to avoid giving their child anxiety. However, children need time to absorb the news and start to prepare.
Allow your child to talk openly about his or her feelings. Although your kids’ worries may seem small from your perspective, they loom large to them. Take time to let them talk it out. Don’t minimize their concerns with generalizations like “Everything will be okay; don’t worry.” Instead, focus on working with them to develop coping strategies for the specific situations they are concerned about, and remind them of other new situations they’ve faced successfully before. Assure kids that their feelings are normal and that you will be there to help them work through it.
Let them stay in touch with their friends. Experts strongly recommend allowing kids to have a get-together with their friends before the move. Put together a scrapbook with photos, and collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses so your child can stay in contact with their friends. This support can help kids make the transition to new surroundings and ease initial feelings of loneliness.
Let them be involved with the move. If possible, take your child along when you look at new houses, and let them give their input — keeping it clear that while the final decision rests with you, their opinions are important. During the move itself, even the littlest child can be given their own jobs, such as packing an overnight bag with favorite toys. When you reach the new house, let your child make some decisions about fixing up their room.
After the Move/Adjusting to a New School
Model social behavior. If you’re comfortable, take the initiative and introduce yourself to your new neighbors — you might even consider hosting an informal get-together.
Get your family involved in the community. If you were a regular church-goer, or if your child played sports or was involved in arts programs or extracurriculars, explore similar opportunities in your new home town or district. This will give kids a familiar activity to enjoy and an opportunity to meet new friends with similar interests.
Tour the new school as a family. Familiarity helps soothe anxiety. Being familiar with the route to school, learning where their classrooms are, meeting new teachers, and finding out how to navigate their new building can go a long way toward making that first day seem less intimidating.
Ask about peer guides. Many schools already have systems in place that pair a new child with another student who acts as the new child’s guide and companion during the first few days. Ask if your new school has such a program; if they don’t, ask the teacher to match your child up with an outgoing student who would be willing to befriend your child and show him or her around the first week or so.
Let academics take a back seat for awhile. A successful educational experience depends on your child’s being happy and secure in their new school. Let them have a transition period where they can focus on the social aspect of school first. Once they’re comfortable, focusing on studies will be much easier.
Let them know you’re proud of their achievements. Every step forward is progress. Remind your child that you’re proud of their courage in facing a new situation and the work they’re doing to adjust.
Do watch for warning signs. Some kids do have more difficulty transitioning than others. Warning signs that your child may need help include depression, withdrawal, frequent illness, and/or behavioral changes. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s teacher to check on their progress and to access the professional counseling and referral services available through the school.
Books About Moving
The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day – Stan Berenstain
Who Will Be My Friends? – Syd Hoff
Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move – Judith Viorst
A Kiss Goodbye – Audrey Penn
Big Ernie’s New Home: A Story for Children Who Are Moving – Teresa and Whitney Martin
Boomer’s Big Day – Constance W. McGeorge
A New Home – Tim Bowers
Amelia’s Notebook – Marissa Moss
Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Good Move – Cynthia Rylant
Mallory on the Move – Laurie Friedman
Back to School, Mallory – Laurie Friedman
Iris and Walter – Elissa Haden Guest
Hey, New Kid! – Betsy Duffey
Lucy Rose: Here’s the Thing About Me – Katy Kelly
Moving Day (Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls Series #1) – Meg Cabot
The New Girl (Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls Series #2) – Meg Cabot
Piper Reed, Navy Brat – Kimberly Willis Holt
The Kid in the Red Jacket – Barbara Park
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School – Ruth McNally Barshaw
The Moving Book: A Kids’ Survival Guide – Gabriel Davis
Do-over – Christine Hurley Deriso
This Place Has No Atmosphere – Paula Danziger
P.S. Longer Letter Later – Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin
Gamer Girl – Mari Mancusi
True Friends – Stephanie Perry Moore
Moving With Kids – 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home – Lori Collins Burgan