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Moving to a New House

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Moving to a new home can be an additional difficult experience for children to cope with. The actual distance moved is not so important. Whether across town or across the country, the transition is stressful because it requires children to break attachments they've formed with their most intimate physical environments; the spaces within the only home they've known. Moves involving larger distances, or which require children to change schools, leave behind their close friends and family, or leave behind the comfort zone of their familiarity with their old community are more stressful than simple moves within a neighborhood, but however you slice it, moves are stressful. Often, the unknown is scary for children. They may worry about fitting in at their new school, making new friends, and other things that may seem trivial to adults, such as the climate being different, or their favorite television show being broadcast at a different time because of a change in time zones.

movingAs is generally the case, parents can best serve children through these stressful changes by offering them open, honest and supportive communication that acknowledges their concerns and encourages them to talk about them. In our view, parents should encourage children to ask questions about their new home and community. If possible, parents should take children on a tour of their new town or neighborhood in advance of actually moving there. Children may be able to "help" pick out a house or at least pick out the paint color in their new room. In offering children this "choice", parents can help them feel just a little bit more control over the process and thereby ease some of their fear. Parents may also take the kids to tour their new school or to visit the park, library, or other attractions near the new home so as to make these places known, to transform children's fear into excitement, and to take away the fear of the unknown.

To help ease the very real feelings of loss children experience upon leaving their original home, families can arrange for a celebration to mark the move and to help children say goodbye. Parents can throw a going-away party at home, at church, or in the classroom. Children who are moving can take an empty journal or notebook with them on the last day of school, basketball practice, etc and have their friends write notes and funny memories in the manner that high-school seniors do with their yearbooks (for the same reasons). Passing out a small note card or piece of paper with the child's new address can encourage friends to send letters or email messages after the move. Furthermore, caregivers can help their children compile a list of addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for all their friends and family so they can stay in touch after they leave. It should be pointed out to children, if it has not already occurred to them, that in this age of social media (LINK to media), it is easier than ever before to stay in touch across large distances.

Once the family moves, parents should encourage children to stay in contact with family and friends back home while also working to get them involved in activities and meeting people in the new community. Moving is a bridge from one location to another which will not become complete until children have started to develop new relationships and attachments in the new location. Shy children or children that struggle to make friends can be coached about ways to initiate conversations with other kids, such as using eye contact and smiling. Furthermore, parents can help children role-play using conversation starting questions and answers to help make real-life social interactions. Parents should (respectfully and gently) push shy children to join groups, clubs and teams in the new location, as simple regular proximity to other children in the new location will naturally help along the development of new friendships.