How to Help Kids Survive a Family Move
I was six and we were packing up for a family move. We were moving to somewhere called “Texas.” I knew I had some jean shorts with Texas written on them, but I didn’t know it was a place.
I watched the U-Haul that would fail us half way across the country, fill up. It was to be the first of many moves. Eight to be exact. Every year or two marked by another move, another new place.
I wish I could tell you that I loved the change. That I loved the opportunity to make new friends. But, frankly, it sucked. It took my budding outgoing personality and crushed it before it had time to bloom.
But it didn’t have to be that way. There were things my parents could have done to make it easier. Things they could have done to make it less traumatic.
Moves happen. Life happens. But family moves don’t have to traumatize your child. Family moves don’t have to be forever ingrained in their memory as the worst childhood experience ever. It all depends on how you approach it.
I see this trauma played out in my therapy office. I work with families and kids to smooth out those life wrinkles, to make life’s bumps less…bumpy. A family move is not always easy.
Are you planning a family move?
It’s okay, life happens, but don’t make these mistakes When moving with kids:
“We are moving next week.” My mom announced. Not again I thought. We had just moved into a rental home. I had just organized my room. I was beginning to actually like the new place. My brother and I had a secret plan to cut a hole in the closet to connect our rooms. A bad plan that was destroyed before it had time to develop in our childish minds.
We weren’t given many warnings about moves. I always felt like the other shoe could drop at any minute. The less we were told, the more paranoid I became. My parents are whispering. Are they whispering about another move? My mom is telling us to clean up. Is someone coming to look at the house?
Give your children plenty of advanced warning about a family move.
If you know you are planning on moving, let your child know. Yes, it might be annoying to hear the complaining for a few months as you try to sell your home or find a new house, but your children deserve the extra time to prepare as well.
Give them as much detail and information you know. What is the proposed timeline? What will happen first? Not sure, give your child a rough outline. Put up a calendar so they know when to expect things to happen.
“You are going to love moving! You can start all over again. Meet new people. Make new friends!” Yeah, um no. For some kids, the idea of starting all over again is a nightmare. Having to talk to new people and make new friends can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Yes, it is good to be optimistic when facing a change, but pipe it down a bit. Your kid might not be sharing your enthusiasm.
Let your children know that you understand their sadness around the family move.
There is nothing worse than feeling horrible about something and everyone is telling you to be happy.
It is okay to highlight the positive aspects of the move, but avoid being insensitive. Let your children know that you understand that this wasn’t their choice. You understand that changing neighborhoods, schools and even states can be hard for anyone.
Allow them time to grieve.
I sat in another school office. This one smelled like stale paper (yes, stale paper has a smell). Everyone walked busily around me. The school year had been in full swing for six months. I was yet, the new kid once again. I was an inconsequential annoyance to the school secretary who was talking to my mother. “We will give her a buddy.” I heard her say flatly. “It will help her get adjusted.”
“A buddy? What the heck is that?” I thought. None of the other new schools offered this lifeline. A wave of relief washed over me. Someone to show me the ropes. Someone forced to be friendly. I liked the idea.
If your child is starting a new school in the middle of the school year, ask if the school will give them a “buddy.”
It doesn’t have to be a formal thing. Maybe the school secretary’s daughter is in the same class. Or the PE instructor has a son in some of the same periods. Whatever the case may be, an arranged friendship could be perfect for the more introverted child.
Even if you don’t arrange for a buddy, you can help prepare your child for their new environment.
- Get a tour of the school.
- Find out their schedule ahead of time.
- Visit the school when it is empty.
- Meet their teachers before their first day.
Anything and everything you can do to prepare your child before their first day – will make the first day that more successful.
I stared at the large brown box that consumed my room. A black scribble on the top with “Natasha’s stuff” written on it. I started packing neatly, but half way through I gave up, as I always had. I stuffed my life into the box, dirty clothes and all. It will be months before the silverware is unpacked. It will be even longer before the sea of boxes engulfing our new house disappear.
Living in transition can be unsettling to kids. Yes, their room might look like a tornado hit it, but it a controlled tornado. It is their tornado.
I know life can be hectic when you are going through a family move, but settle your kids in first.
Unpack and organize your children’s rooms first.
Make your children’s rooms the number one priority. Children need routine and structure – all of which will be out the window for a bit. You can help with that by organizing their room. You don’t have to unpack your whole house right away, but give your children some order to the new chaos.
Unpack their room. Unpack their clothes. Settle them in.
Moving your whole family can be nerve-wracking for everyone. Every aspect of moving can be overwhelming. Selling the house, finding a house and packing up is less than fun. But, it can be even more traumatizing for your children.
Be sensitive to your child’s emotions during this time.
Be aware of the changes they are going through. Help them by doing the following:
- Prepare them for the move.
- Take the time to talk to the new school.
- Organize their room first.
My life was marked by spontaneous moves my parents did not discuss with me. I was plopped into new schools with no preparation or help. I lived in a sea of boxes for way too long.
You can do things better. You can be proactive and make the move as painless and seamless as humanly possible!
Are you planning a family move? What is your biggest concern? What are some of your ideas that might help? Leave a comment below.