The prospect of moving away from their school, their neighborhood, their friends, and everything that is familiar to them is daunting to children of all ages. You can help make the transition easier by keeping the lines of communication open, keeping them involved in the communication process, helping them transition from old friendships to new ones, and building on the positive aspects of all the changes.
1. Talk Early, Talk Often
You might be tempted to wait to tell your kids about your upcoming move until you have sorted out as many logistics as possible. But children need time to process the huge changes that relocation will mean for them. For young children, you may need to explain what moving means and what it doesn’t mean. For example, assure them that all their toys and any pets will move with you. Keep the conversation open throughout the relocation process, anticipating and addressing potential concerns.
2. Listen. And Then Listen Again
At any age, children need to feel that they belong and that their voices are heard. Allow them to express both positive and negative feelings about the move. If you censor the negative expressions, it may foster resentment and feelings of alienation. In order to build on positive feelings, involve your children in the decision making process. This will minimize the loss of stability and control they may be experiencing. Take them house hunting with you if feasible, and if not, take pictures of the houses you are considering and talk about them with your children. Include your teenagers in discussions about house features, area schools, churches, and neighborhoods.
3. Say Goodbye, Plan Hello
With all the logistics that go into relocating, make sure you provide ample time for goodbyes, to bring a sense of closure. This may entail going away parties, visits to friends’ houses, or meetings with favorite teachers. You might have each of your children’s friends create a page of memories and well-wishes to be assembled into scrapbooks. On the other hand, you don’t want to put the stamp of finality onto the situation. Before you move, go ahead and plan a return visit—pick a date, make arrangements for accommodations, and commit. This way your children will not feel that the goodbyes are forever, and they have something to look forward to.
4. Embark on an Adventure!
With so many changes, your children may be feeling depressed about what they are leaving behind and anxious about the unknown. To help combat this, treat the newness as an adventure. Before the move, take a trip together to your new city and splurge on a nice hotel. Help your children pick a local restaurant that serves their favorite foods. Make a game out of exploring the city—you can each take a turn as a “tour guide” to explain area points of interest. These explanations can be imaginative stories be made up by your younger children or they can be researched and factually presented by older kids—whatever will serve as a fun introduction to the area. Once you move to your new house, take a family walk to discover your new neighborhood. You might take several walks over the first few weeks, allowing each child to choose a new route each time. Together you can transform a stressful time into a fun family adventure.
5. Buy Purple Paint
Make your kids’ rooms a priority when you move, and let them be involved in the decision making. Go shopping and let them pick out a new bedspread. Give them a poster or artwork allowance. Take them to a paint store and let them choose a color for their walls. Buy purple paint, if that’s what they ask for! Allow your children to take as much ownership of decorating their rooms as their ages allow. This way they can create their own space to settle into, helping to ease their transition.
6. Add Something Special
Find or create something different but exciting about your new home and neighborhood. For example, buy a colorful new swing for your younger kids or even a basketball goal if feasible. Or you might purchase a foosball table or video game to keep in a spare bedroom or in your garage. Dedicate a movie area in the new home, perhaps adding a sound system, popcorn machine or mini fridge. You don’t need to break your budget, though. Some of these items can be purchased on Craig’s List or Ebay for a fraction of retail price. If your old neighborhood did not have a community pool but your new one does, sign the family up right away. The point is to reinforce that different and new can be positive and exciting.
7. Consider the Season
Many parents try to relocate during the summer so they don’t have to subject their child to being “the new kid at school” right away. But summer can be a long and lonely season for a child with no friends and nothing to do. If you are able to, consider moving early fall, just before school starts, so that your children can quickly get into a routine and make new friends. If that is not possible, you might move over winter break. Although mid-school year transitions can be tough, it may be better than the boredom and depression of lonely summer months.
8. Sign Them Up
Kids crave acceptance, so it is important to find small groups for them to participate in right away. This is especially true if you move in the summer when school is not providing these opportunities. Seek out youth groups, art or drama classes, camps, or sports teams for them to join. Of course, don’t just sign them up and make them go. Be sure to involve them in the selection process, especially older children. Let them try out the group and determine what feels right to them. Whatever their ages, and whatever time of year you move, finding small groups for your children to participate in will allow them to form friendships and find a place to belong.
9. Introduce the School
Whether preschool or high school or anywhere in between, your children will spend many of their waking hours in academic halls. Of course you need to do your homework before moving so that you end up in a school district you feel good about. But once you have moved, stay proactive about transitioning your child to a new school. Make an appointment to meet with the school principal, guidance counselor, or teachers, and bring your child to the meeting. Ask to go on a tour. This will familiarize your child with the place so it won’t be brand new on the first day of school.
10. Indulge a Little
Remember your teenage years when acceptance was paramount? When having a certain pair of sneakers could make or break your reputation? Even if having the right “stuff” isn’t as important to you now, keep their teens’ perspective in mind. Help your children feel like they fit into their new peer group by indulging in a new outfit or book bag for their first day of school. Go to the mall with them to see what hair styles local kids are wearing and take your kids to get trendy new haircuts. This ego boost will make the transition much easier.
Even though you will ultimately be making the big decisions, listen to your kids’ perspectives, take their thoughts into consideration, and, above all, make sure your children feel heard. Instead of instability, you will be setting the family mood for involvement and belonging.