Kids & Moving

Moving from one house to another is seldom easy, and if parents fail to plan carefully, a move can be needlessly traumatic for children. On the other hand, if parents deal with their children's needs thoughtfully, much of that distress and discomfort can be avoided.

Children see moves differently than their parents do, and they benefit much less from the lifestyle changes - or so it seems at the time. Most often, a change in houses or communities heralds an important step forward for an adult family member.

The family moves because Mom or Dad has a great new job or promotion. They move because they can afford a bigger or nicer home in a more costly neighbourhood, or because they can finally afford private bedrooms for each child and maybe a backyard pool.

In the 1990's, mobile and hard working people typically lived in a house for about four years before moving on as their careers and finances allowed. Four years is a short period of time to an adult, but to an eight year old, it is half his or her life. Parents may regard this home as a place they have lived for only a short time, but to a child, it may be the only home they have ever known. This is the place where they feel safe and comfortable.

A house is much more than a roof and walls to a kid. It is the centre of their world. A move threatens their security. Their familiar friends, school and neighbourhood will no longer exist for them. Everything will soon be strange - they will live in someone else's world.


Before the Move

The impact of a move on a typical child starts about the time he or she first hears of Mom or Dad's new promotion, and often continues for about a year, until the new house becomes a home, and memories of the previous place fade.

It's not usually necessary to announce this big change to children immediately, although they must hear it from you before someone else breaks the news. Most teens see themselves as adult members of the family, and will probably feel left out if they are not included from the beginning, but it is probably not a good idea to tell toddlers and preschoolers until they have to know. There is no point in making them worry far in advance.

Be sure to announce the move in a totally positive way. You might say how proud you are of Mom or Dad's promotion, or talk about what a beautiful place your new town will be, how good the schools are and how nice the people are.

Tell truthful, positive stories about the new house, with special emphasis on those features that will be most important to your children.

If the new home is too far away to allow a visit by the entire family, show the children pictures of it from every angle. Videotape it if you can. Emphasize the positive views and include pictures of each child's new room.

Sugar coating may help, but since most children can see the negative sides of most situations, every parent must plan to deal with their children's worries and fears. Kids will lose friends they may have known all their lives. They will leave behind sports teams, clubs and dancing teachers. They will have to start over in a new place, making friends, becoming accepted and fitting in to different groups. Younger children need protection from fear of the unknown. Listen carefully to their concerns and respond quickly to their apprehensions. It would be normal, for instance, for a young child to worry that his or her toy box or stuffed animals might be left behind. Find those anxieties and correct them.

A good tactic is to get the children involved in the whole moving process. Get them excited about decorating their new room by taking them out to get paint samples and colour swatches. Shop for bedspreads and towels and carpet.

They must leave old friends behind, so find ways to make the parting pleasant. Plan a going away party and let the children invite their own guests. Take pictures of everyone and make a photo album. If your kids are old enough, send them out with a camera to photograph the views they will want to remember.

Some relationships will be extremely difficult to break, and these will demand careful, thoughtful, personalized planning by both parents. How, for instance, do you move a 17 year old away from her steady boyfriend?


After the Move

Expect that your children may be even more distressed after the move than they were before. The new house will not be beautiful the night after the moving van leaves. The furniture won't fit the rooms. The curtains won't be up and the floor will be covered with boxes. The children won't know anyone at school and, if you move in the summer, they'll have fewer opportunities to meet others their age.

You may be faced with many more problems in your new community than your children will, but remember that you're better equipped to handle them. Your kids will need your help and you should plan to give them the support they need.

If you're moving out of town, give each of your children a long distance phone allowance so they can keep in touch with the people back home who mean the most to them. Encourage them to write positive letters to the friends and family they left behind. Get your kids outside, where the neighbour pass by. Encourage them to meet people and make friends. Help them participate in as many school activities as they can handle. Get them on sports teams and into clubs. Remind them that they are also helping to make grown-up friends for you too. Every kid they bring home has parents who may want to invite you to play golf or go shopping.

If they - and you - aren't making friends fast enough, throw yourselves a 'Welcome to the Neighbourhood' party and invite all the families on your block.

If serious problems arise, however, help is usually available and probably should be sought. Ask a teacher or counselor for help.

Remember that the newness will wear off. New friends will become old friends and best friends. This new house will become the new family homestead.

In the end, everything will work out fine!