Moving On Up

Enabling children to thrive during a move.

More than 13 million children move each year, and all of them survive the move whether or not their parents take measures to ease the transition. But we don’t want our kids just to survive— we want them to thrive.

Moving can open doors to new friendships, new opportunities and new forms of contentment. Through a move, your children can experience life-changing benefits that otherwise would not have been possible. To maximize these benefits, there are many deliberate steps parents can take.

Allow your children to grieve. There is no getting around it: Moving brings with it pain and sadness. Even if your children are excited to move, they probably feel some sadness, anxiety and fear about leaving behind familiar people, places and routines. If moving means separating from a parent, grandparent, best friend, caregiver or anyone else with whom your children have had a significant relationship— including a pet— the loss will likely invoke grief.

Although many children seem to have a natural resilience that helps them bounce back after a disappointment, don’t underestimate how difficult the loss may be for your kids. While you cannot completely efface the pain, there are several things you can do to assist your children in coping with the transition.

Encourage your children to express their feelings, and never add judgment to what your children express. Saying things like “Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends” or “Don’t feel sad” gives your kids the message that their feelings are unacceptable. Be honest about how you are feeling, letting them know that you feel sadness, too. And don’t impose a time limit on your children’s grief; let them feel each emotion for as long as they need to feel it.

Empower your children to make decisions. In the majority of cases, children have to move. Whether their parents view the move as positive or negative, it is being forced upon the children and they have no control over it. This feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming for a child. Thus, it is important to find things throughout the process of moving that enable children to exercise some control.

There are many decisions your children can safely make during and following a move. For example, do your children want to tell their friends and teachers that they are moving, or do they want Mom or Dad to do it? What kind of goodbye party would your children like to have? Would it help to finish the year at their old school, or would your children rather move as soon as possible so they can start forming new friendships?

In what type of neighborhood would your children like to live? What features are important to them in a new house? What toys or other items would your children like to keep with them on the moving trip? How would they like to decorate their new rooms? What activities would they like to be involved in when they move?

Don’t assume you know what choices your children will make; they’ll often surprise you. And even when you do know your children’s preferences, give them the opportunity to express their opinions anyway. Tell your kids how important their views are to you, and make sure they know that their preferences will be given priority consideration in your decisions. This helps children to feel as if they’ve regained some control over a situation in which they initially felt powerless.

Be proactive. After you move, don’t wait until problems arise before you intervene. Take deliberate, proactive steps to ease your children’s transition to a new home and school.

If possible, accompany your children to visit their new school prior to enrolling them. The first day of classes isn’t as scary if your kids have toured the school, heard the school rules and met their teachers in advance. Talk to teachers, coaches, group leaders and other adults before they meet your children for the first time. And be specific in suggesting to school officials how they can make your children’s transition easier.

Most teachers and other adults who work with children are willing to make an effort to help new students feel welcome. However, even experienced teachers may not recognize the need to do this unless a parent points it out to them. Once school has begun, some parents find that volunteering at the school eases their children’s transition. Yet, other parents think that their children adjust more easily when the parents aren’t around. Discuss with older children how involved they would like you to be, and then respect their wishes.

If volunteering isn’t an option, it is especially critical to maintain regular communication with your children’s teachers in some other way. When you keep the lines of communication open, you are ready to deal with problems before they escalate. For any child, healthy relationships with teachers and other adults are key to the development of a positive self-image. When children move, such nurturing relationships may be lost. One of the ways you can facilitate your children’s transition to a new school and community, then, is to help them develop good relationships with new adult role models, including teachers, coaches, band directors, religious school teachers, neighbors and any other adults with whom your children will have continual contact. And once these adults have helped your kids, remember to thank them for their effort.

Be positive. Modeling a positive attitude for your children is imperative during a move. It is especially imperative afterward, when it is normal for a family to go through an adjustment period in which both children and adults feel dissatisfaction with some aspect of the moving experience.

Consider the following ways to help your children cope: Expect the move to be a good experience. Avoid pointing out ways that your new home doesn’t measure up to your old one. Look for new opportunities that the move will bring about in your lives. Learn to see humor in daily situations. And, cultivate a sense of belonging in your new home and community.

After making five moves with my three children in seven years, I know that my family could move anywhere, and eventually everything would work out fine for us. I know the kids would make new friends, they would do well in school, we would get to know our neighbors and we would soon feel that the new community was our home. These things have occurred with every move.

No matter how apprehensive you feel about moving, support your children by maintaining the conviction that you— as a collective family— will make the best of your family’s new situation.