When a family moves, this can create a lot of stress for young children. Whether the family has moved a number of times or it is an infrequent occurrence, it can be very traumatic for children. Moves interrupt friendships and disrupt the stability and predictability that children look for.
When a child goes to a new school, it may seem like everyone already has a best friend and that the social groups are already well established. The child must also get used to a new class, a new teacher, a different curriculum, and will find that in some classes they are ahead of the previous school and in other classes they are behind. All of this will require adjustments and will certainly result in some anxiety.
Generally it is believed that the older the child, the more difficult the move will be. This is due to the increasing importance of the peer group. Children who are approaching the teenage years may protest the move greatly, or may try to find ways to stay in the same area. Children will react differently, some may be very quiet about their emotions and want to keep it to themselves; while others let you know what they think in very forceful ways. Parents should be alert to any changes that they see in their child`s behaviour or emotional response.
When a family makes a decision to move, the following steps can make the adjustment easier for children:
- Explain to the children why the move is happening.
- Help the children become familiar with the new area. Show them maps, pictures or take them to the new area, pointing out "special landmarks" along the way. Drive by the new school, and walk around the building.
- Describe the advantages of the new location, especially those things that might be important to children (playgrounds, stores, parks, recreation centres).
- After the move, get the children involved in local activities.
Some children will not react well to a move, and parents should be alert to the following warning signs: a change in appetite, social withdrawal, a drop in grades at school, irritability, sleep disturbances, or loss of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable.
If you are concerned about your child`s adjustment to a family move, you are able to consult with the Social Worker at your child`s school. Together, you can decide if your child could benefit from some counselling support during this transitional period.
Content of this article is partially derived from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.