Have a kid-friendly move
Changing homes is stressful for the whole family. Here's how to make the process smoother, with advice you can follow before, during and after your move.
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Moving is always unpleasant. Nobody knows this more than kids.
Children who move frequently tend to do poorly in school and have more behavioral problems, according to a Northwestern University study (PDF). Another study, from 2010, also found that introverted people who moved often when they were young demonstrated less well-being as adults — and even died younger — because they had fewer close social relationships. (Bing: Find and compare moving rates in your area)
But a move needn't scar Junior, experts say.
"If you do the right things, most kids are going to handle it fairly well," says Frederic Medway, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of South Carolina and a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with children and families. Medway has studied the effects of moving and location for three decades.
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.
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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.
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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 Children." 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.
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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.
I was raised a military brat from birth, and am now married with my husband in the military as well. Growing up we moved every 1-3 years. I went to 7 elementary schools, 2 jr. high, and 2 high schools. About half of those were DODDS schools. I know it has affected me socially. I have no very close relationships with anyone besides my immediate family (who are all spread out in the U.S. so as close as that will allow), yet I have many friends or know people all over the world. So, that part I admit is sad for me. I am fortunate though to have a great marriage, wonderful children, and faith in my loving Lord who sustains me. I would point out that the source the author used to create this article suggested that most problems experienced by the children came from what essentially equals broken homes. The other "military brats" I grew up with are for the most part very smart, intelligent, and successful people. Thanks to social media like FB, many of us have been able to reconnect and often are considered a "family". To address the main reason of this article~ making moves easier for children~ I think the author could have just focused on giving tips then addressing how kids can get all messed up with moves. I was interested since my family obviously moves often, and I consider myself an expert mover by now. I wanted to compare my experience with their tips, but felt the article was a little misleading with all the psycho-babble. I have 2 elementary aged children, and one toddler, and we moved 6 months ago. This is the older 2 children's 3rd move, not including other local moves in the previous locations. Moving has become an adventure for them and they seem to get very excited. We do let them participate in the garage sales before the moves, and use family vacation time to have fun and explore our new area. The children are involved in social activities like soccer and dance, and do very well in school. In no way am I saying they don't get scared, but from their feedback, they seem to learn a lot about their new environments. Things they like, what they don't, friends they miss, friends they make, etc. One thing that helps in the new home is to let them pick their rooms and let them truly make it theirs. While traveling we don't use movies. I always want them to know their surroundings. Now I have children who go wild for "views". They are so silly. Anyway, enough of my novel. God bless.