Are you thinking of moving and worried about how your brood will take it? Here’s some solid advice from the experts to make landing in a new nest as soft and gentle as possible.
It’s not always a bad thing
First, take a deep breath and relax: “The vast majority of kids who move, especially if it’s under three or four times [in their childhood], do well,” Medway says.
The most stressful moves for kids, Medway says, are those in which another factor complicates the situation — a family breakup or divorce, for instance, or a parent’s lost job and the family’s subsequent money stresses.
There’s no single, telltale sign that your child might be having trouble with an upcoming or recent move, psychologists say. Instead, parents should look for sudden, unusual changes from normal behavior.
“When the parent starts saying, ‘My kid is not my kid,’ that’s when you need to investigate further,” Medway says.
Know how your child reacts to stress and ask yourself if that has changed, says John Helminski, a licensed psychologist in Cary, N.C. He says other possible warning signs could include:
- Varying degrees of sadness
- Picking fights with siblings or good friends
- Defiance toward parents or teachers
- Academic difficulties where none existed previously
Before the move
To ensure a safe landing when moving to your new home, consider these tips.
Don’t worry, be happy. ”Kids really have more of a fear of the unknown than the known,” Medway says. During a time of uncertainty, they’re looking for clues as to how they’re supposed to feel. Parents often give them those cues. A parent who is not excited about moving — or who is negative or ignores the child — can give off a negative vibe about what’s coming, he says.
“What parents have to do is to never feed into that negativity of the child,” Medway says. “The parents have to be positive — and if they’re not, they almost have to fake [being] positive, for the benefit of the child. Otherwise, they’re going to be burdening the child.”
Being excited about the move or treating it like an adventure goes a long way, too, he says.
Talk it out. Open the lines of communication early with your child. “Give the kids plenty of time to express themselves, even if it’s negative, even if it’s sad,” says Thomas Olkowski, a retired licensed clinical psychologist in Denver and co-author of the book Moving with Furniture. Have your child list questions or fears about the upcoming move, Olkowski says, then gather as a family so you, the parent, can address those questions.
A move frequently isn’t a happy event for parents, either, Olkowski says, and it can be hard to be positive all the time. Be honest with your children that a move is tough but that the family will make it through this together, he says.
“It helps the child to feel less isolated,” Helminski says.
Don’t make empty promises. ”One of the traps that parents fall into is the kids say, ‘What happens if I don’t like it there? Can we move back?’ And the parents say, ‘Well, maybe,’” Olkowski says. This creates false hope, and a child might cling to it. Your attempt to make life easier now only creates worse trouble later. “Don’t make any promises that you’re not willing to keep,” Olkowski says.
Watch your time. Before a move, parents can get so busy that “sometimes they forget to keep doing stuff that the family is familiar with,” Olkowski says. This can include regular pizza night on Wednesdays, for example, or church on Sundays. Maintain those family routines, if possible, he says. They provide security and continuity for children during an unsettled time.
Throw a yard sale. When Helminski’s family moved from Minnesota to North Carolina four years ago, his three children — then ages 10, 14 and 18 — were not eager. For practical purposes, the parents decided to hold “the garage sale of the century.” But the sale had ulterior motives, Helminski says: His children got to decide which of their possessions to keep and which to sell. They got to keep some money to buy new toys and bikes when they arrived at their new home. The sale gave them a sense of control and also created excitement about what awaited them once they arrived in their new home.
Have a good sendoff. One way for a child to say goodbye to a house or friends is to make a small gesture, such as donating an item to the classroom. “It could be something small, like a plant or a dictionary,” Olkowski says. Another idea: Have your child give friends or soccer teammates postcards with your new home’s mailing address, to be sent once you leave town. Receiving mail from friends “kind of adds to the excitement” of arriving in a strange, new place, he says.
Make the new familiar. As adults, we forget just how scary the unknown can be to a child. As soon as you can before a move, help your children become familiar with their new home so they can visualize it, experts say:
If your new town or home is close enough, take your kids on a tour. Have them meet coaches and teachers. Let them see their future bedroom in person to take away the blank spots that can be filled by worry, Helminski says.
If that’s not possible, show them their school online, from pictures to information about classes and activities, Helminski says. That was helpful for his children, he says, “Because when it’s all said and done, so much of their lives revolved around schools, and what happens at school.”
If you or your spouse makes trips to the new city to buy or rent a house, return with pictures of the neighborhood, the home and the rooms.
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