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Tips for Moving Kids


(Includes excerpts from "Children And Family Moves" by The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

First and foremost, it is very important to communicate openly and honestly with all family members about an impending move, and to do so as early as possible in the process. 

Tell the children what is happening, and include them in the process (even lokking at and choosing a house) as much as possible. If the kids are happy and they feel included in the decision making process, they will "take ownership" of their new home and the transition will be much easier for everyone.

Moving to a new community may be one of the most stress-producing experiences a family faces. Frequent moves, or even a single move can be especially hard on a youngster, and this stress occurs even when there are siblings. Moves interrupt friendships. To a new child at school, it may at first seem that everyone else has a best friend or is securely involved in a clique. 

The child must get used to a different curriculum, and finds him or herself ahead on certain subjects and behind on others, causing boredom and anxiety.

Share the excitement and responsibilities of a move with every member of the family. Giving each family member an age-appropriate responsibility can help make them feel more involved, take their mind off the fact that they are leaving friends and familiar things behind. It gets them looking forward to the new home, and also spreads the load out a little for you. But, remember, have one adult coordinator responsible for the overall move.

Children in kindergarten or first grade may be particularly vulnerable to a family move because developmentally they are just in the process of separating from their parents and adjusting to new authority figures and peer groups. The relocation can interfere with that normal process of separation by causing them to return to a more dependent relationship with their parents. Encourage the children to say good-bye to friends, and to exchange addresses and phone numbers. A letter or phone call to or from a good friend can go a long way to boosting the spirits of anyone, especially kids in a strange, new environment.

In general, the older the child the more difficulty he or she will have with the move because of the increasing importance of the peer group. Pre-teens and teenagers may repeatedly protest the move or ask to stay in their hometown with a friend's family. Some youngsters may not talk about their distress, so parents should be aware of the warning signs of depression, including changes in appetite, withdrawal, a drop in grades, irritability, sleep disturbances or other dramatic changes in behavior.

Children who seem depressed by a move may be reacting less to the relocation than to the stress of their parents settling in to a new area. Sometimes one parent may be against the move, and children will sense and react to this parental discord.

If the child shows persistent signs of depression or distress, parents can ask their family doctor, their pediatrician or the local medical society to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can diagnose and treat physical as well as emotional problems that may affect children as a result of stress. The child and adolescent psychiatrist can also help parents learn how to make the new experience easier on the entire family.

To make the move easier on children, parents may take these steps:

  • Explain clearly to the children why the move is necessary.
  • Familiarize the children as much as possible with the new area with maps, photographs or the daily newspaper.
  • Describe advantages of the new location that the child might appreciate such as a lake, mountain or an amusement park.
  • After the move, get involved with the children in activities of the local church or synagogue, PTA, scouts,etc.
  • If a son or daughter is a senior in high school, consider the possibility of letting him or her stay with trusted family friends until the school year is over. 
Don't forget to keep other family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, etc., informed of your plans. They can often help make the transition go a little more smoothly by helping with the children during house hunting trips or on packing or loading days.

The more frequently a family moves, the more important is the need for internal stability. With the proper attention from parents and professional help, if necessary, moving can be a positive growth experience for children, leading to increased self-confidence and improved interpersonal skills.


Information for this article was provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


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