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Children and Relocations

Research shows that children who move frequently are significantly more likely to have problems in school, social problems, lower self-esteem, and usually have less secure relationships with peers. For adults, a move is often both stressful and exciting. Adults usually feel much more secure with the world and understand that they will eventually be fine in their new environment. Children however, do not have the same frame of reference and often find moving to a new community is one of the most stress-producing experiences they have ever had. For teenagers and even pre-teens their friends are one of the most important things in their lives and to lose thier friends and go somewhere new where they don't know anybody is a horrible experience. Teenagers and kindergarten age children also both have difficulty because those are years in which the child is learning to begin to separate on some level from the parents. They are learning to find others to lean on and to build a certain level of independence. A move can throw them back and cause them to regress back to an earlier developmental stage where they were more dependent.

At many ages children tend to form cliques and it may be hard for a new kid to find a place where they feel they fit in and are accepted. The child will usually feel like everybody has lots of friends and they have none and will never have another friend.  Also, the child has to get used to a new school and feel stupid when they get lost.  They need to get used to a new schedule, new rules, and new expectations and norms.  In addition, they may be behind in some classes or ahead in others and find it hard to feel good academically. Moves are even more difficult if they are the result of another change or loss in the child's life such as a death, a divorce, a lowering of the family income, or the loss of a close boyfriend or girlfriend.

Here are some common ways to help your child adjust better:

  • Help them keep a sense of power and control by allowing them some choices during the move (the color of the walls in their new room…)
  • Explain clearly to the children why the move is necessary.
  • Familiarize the children as much as possible with the new area with maps, photographs, driving them around, touring the school before they start there, and reviewing the local paper together. 
  • If possible, introduce them to some other children in the area prior to them moving there.
  • Describe advantages of the new location that the child might appreciate such as a lake, mountain or an amusement park especially things that the child particularly likes.
  • After the move, get involved with the children in activities of the local church or synagogue, PTA, camp, after school activities, scouts, YMCA, etc.
  • If a son or daughter is a senior in high school, consider the possibility of letting him or her stay with a trusted family until the school year is over.
  • Let children participate in designing or furnishing their room.
  • Help children keep in touch with friends from the previous neighborhood through telephone, letters, e-mail, and personal visits.

Many times, if a child has a supportive enough family that understands that this is a difficult time for them, they will adjust just fine. However, many children begin a downward spiral to self-destruction, depression, angry anti-social type behaviors, and need professional help to guide them through this process and help them cope. Also, if a parent child relationship was strained before the move, usually they cannot or will not lean on the parent for support so it becomes important to bring someone in who understands this process and can act accordingly. A child and adolescent therapist is usually just the right person to help the child adjust quickly and productively. We can provide this service for you and your family if needed, at the Counseling Corner.  


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