Article Written by Youth Dynamics Contributor
Each year, about 40 million Americans move, whether it be locally or long-distance. While people move for many different reasons, the transition can be difficult, especially for children. Even with the best intentions of moving to better your family, relocating still comes with many challenges and even some negative effects on children’s mental health and social development. Here is what you need to know about moving with kids and some tips on how to make the transition easier on them.
Why is Moving So Hard on Kids?
Change in Routine
There has been a lot of research on the benefits of routines for children, especially given the disruption of the pandemic. With these routines also comes familiarity and confidence for kids—knowing where their toothbrush is located, remembering how to walk to the playground, or understanding that daycare means seeing their friends. A move changes all of these known comforts for kids and opens up their world to uncertainty and even additional fear of the unknown, especially the disorientation from waking up in an unfamiliar place. A move can cause toddlers to become more clingy, while older kids can regress and even become depressed.
Loss of Friends
Friendships are a crucial part of socialization and development. Especially for older kids, these relationships with peers have developed over years of bonding and growing together. Not only do kids lament the loss of this friend, but they also may fear being put in different social situations and having to start over. The promise of friendships as solid as their previous ones is not guaranteed, and it can be hard to let the idea of that go.
Moving is stressful for the entire family. Even if your kids are excited about the move, kids also feed off your anxiety. If you as a parent are getting stressed about the logistics of house hunting, budgeting, packing, and moving, your kids may pick up on and mimic this negative energy.
Although many moves represent new opportunities and positive changes, there are also just as many moves associated with negative life events. Events like divorce, death, or money problems are already incredibly hard on kids, which causes them to crave comfort, familiarity, and stability. Uprooting them in the midst of this trauma, while many times unavoidable, can do a lot of additional damage and create multiple sources of grief.
What Can You Do?
Re-establish a Routine
When packing up your belongings, keep the necessities for your kids’ routine separate and easily accessible. Then, when you arrive at your new home, set up the kids’ rooms first and try to keep the layout as similar as possible to recreate their old routine in their new home. The familiarity of a favorite toy, blanket, or book can be a great reminder that while their surroundings have changed, the pieces of their home life are still intact. Also, try to keep their daily schedules similar, like lunch and bedtime.
Set Up a Village
If moving close by, keep your kids’ relationships intact as much as possible, whether with family, friends, school, or activities. Utilize technology to keep in contact with those you cannot see as often. When moving across the country, it’s important to try to establish a new network and support system as soon as possible. Creating a village not only establishes a positive environment for your kids but also supports you as the parent and reduces your own stress.
Plan and Prepare to Move
The best way to reduce the stress your kids have on the move is to reduce the pressure of the process for yourself. One way to do this is to keep a clear and concise timeline, work through a home-buyer checklist, and take all of the preliminary steps to stay on track. Something like getting a home loan preapproval allows you to be able to actively start looking with an established budget. This allows you to set expectations for yourself, but also for your kids, and saves you from overpromising certain aspects of the new home, like a game room or a pool.
When preparing your kids to move, if you wait too long to tell them, the move will be a disruptive shock that will be harder to process. Inversely, if you tell them long before you’ve started the process, you run the risk of them thinking that day will never actually come or prolonging their dread. Involve them in the process, whether for house hunting or exploring their new neighborhood when the process is early, but real.
When moving, it is easy for kids to focus on everything that’s ending. These things will dominate kids’ ideas of the move if you don’t counterbalance them with positive things the news will bring. Are you moving closer to a playground? Will the backyard be perfect for a new dog? Does their new school have a program that their old one didn’t? Can they paint their room their favorite color?
For younger kids, explaining the move and all of its positives in a story or book helps the idea of moving formulate before it actually takes place. You can then lean on it when questions and negative feelings arise and get through it, “just like in the story.”
Whether your move is a positive new beginning or a transition out of a hard time, kids will need your love, support, and understanding to adjust. With all of the exciting new things that accompany a move, there will always be some loss. But, by knowing what components are particularly hard, you can address them directly. Moving may not be easy, but it is a great teachable moment to prepare your kids for difficult changes that occur many times in a person’s life.
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