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.
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:
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"Make sure your children know where their special belongings are packed," Helminski writes. Possessions help anchor children and make them feel comfortable. During a move, they might worry that the items will be lost. Help children pack their possessions in boxes that will be easy to find, and write your address on the boxes, so your kids learn it. Choose a few of the most important items to make the car or plane trek to the new home, Helminski says.
When children are uprooted, they lose what little control they have over their lives, experts say. That's disorienting and depressing. "Do something where you give them their control back," Medway says. The bedroom is a great place to start. Let your children have a strong voice in what their new bedrooms look like: who gets what space, where the furniture will go and what color the walls will be. Does your child want camouflage wallpaper? "Maybe that's a battle that you don't want to fight," Medway says. "Make the new room more exciting than the old room. Whatever little thing you can do to make your child happy in a new place is really important." Look, too, for other places where your child can provide input around the new house - such as what flowers to plant in the garden, Helminski says.
Once you are established in the new neighborhood, get a sheet of poster board and have younger kids make a map of where everything is located - home, school, soccer fields - "so that they feel more at home in the neighborhood" and don't feel they will get lost, which is often a fear when moving, Olkowski says.
For kids, it's tough to leave old friends. These days, however, it's easier than ever for your child to stay in touch with friends in the former town or neighborhood - be it via email, Skype, phone or Facebook. Encourage them to stay in touch, and if they are young, help them do so. "Don't downplay to your kids the importance of those friendships," Helminski says. "It helps them to stay connected to where they were, in some way." Your children will appreciate that, he says.
Once you've moved, Medway says, enroll your children in a class or a club that interests them - karate or swim team, for example. "Immerse the kid in some activity in the new neighborhood, and don't just rely on the fact that they'll make friends in school," he says.Unless they are advanced at the activity, enroll them in an introductory course, he advises, so they can feel on par with everyone else, and not behind.Kids ages 11 to 13 are "where we see the most problems" dealing with a move, Medway says. "If anything, they are social problems - making friends and fitting in," because kids in that age range need approval and want acceptance from their peers, he says. It applies to older kids, too, and can help them meet new people and take their mind off the move.
With a little luck, the biggest concern about your move will be whether your mail has made the switch with you. As Medway puts it, "I have never been convinced that a move or two early in one's life is a lifelong curse."