A Move Affects Children and Adults Differently
People typically live in a house for about five years and then move on as their
jobs and incomes allow. Five years is a small percentage of an adult’s life,
but it’s half the lifetime of a 10-year old: It includes almost all the years he or she can
remember. It may be the only home the child’s ever known, and the place s/he feels most
safe and comfortable.
A house is much more than a place to live to children. It’s the center of their world,
associated with familiar activities, sights, and sounds. A move threatens a child’s security
and leaves something unknown in its place. Their friends, and the familiar streets, schools,
shops, trees and parks are gone. The new neighborhood is someone else’s world.
The impact of a move on a child starts about the time he or she first hears about it, and
often continues until the new house becomes home. It’s not necessary to tell young
children about this big change immediately, although they must hear about it from their
parents before someone else tells them.
Expect that your children may be even more distressed after the move. The new house will
not be comfortable or beautiful the night the moving van leaves, or for months after. The
furniture won’t fit the rooms, and the floor will be covered with half-unpacked boxes. The
children won’t know anyone at school and, if you move during the summer, they may
have little opportunity to meet others their age. They’ll need your help: Plan ahead to
support and comfort them and ease the stress of the move.
Most often, a move represents an important step forward for the adults in the family
because of a new job, promotion, transfer to a different office, or financial success has
allowed them to buy a more comfortable house in a different neighborhood.
Moving from one house to another is seldom easy and enjoyable for adults (who chose
to move), and can be especially troubling for children (who prefer to stay where they
are). But if parents are mindful of their children’s concerns and needs, they can minimize
distress and discomfort.
Easing the Stress of the Move
Young Children Have Special Needs
Describe the move in a truthful, positive way. Tell upbeat stories about the
benefits of the new house and location. Plan together to make the new setting feel like home:
• Ask about their favorite activities (e.g.,
soccer), and plan to investigate youth
programs in the new community.
• Ask what they like best about the present
house (e.g., the swimming pool) and assure
them that you’ll find a place for them to
swim in the new town.
• Ask what they like best about the
neighborhood (e.g., their friends), and
make plans to invite the children on the
block to a Welcome To the Neighborhood
Party once you’ve settled in.
• Ask what they like the most about their
school (e.g., their teacher), and let them
know that you’ll request a tour of their new
school and a chance to meet their teacher
• Ask what they like most about their
community (e.g., the video game parlor),
and assure them that those activities will be
available in the new location.
• Use children’s literature. Books can help
children prepare for and understand
difficult situations. Story characters who
model successful coping strategies are an
excellent resource for children.
• If the new home is too far away for the
entire family to visit, show the children
pictures of the house, yard, and
neighborhood. Videotape it if you can.
Include pictures of each child’s new room.
• Ask the children to name the house with
an inviting description, like “Oak Hill,” for
the big trees and sloping lawn.
• Young children need protection from fear
of the unknown. Listen carefully to their
concerns and respond quickly to relieve
their apprehensions. It’s normal, for
instance, for a young child to worry that his
or her toy box and shelf of stuffed animals
might be left behind. Uncover those
anxieties by actively involving your children
in the process.
• Don’t just promise to let them decorate
their own rooms – take them to the paint
store and let them bring home color
swatches. Shop together for bedspreads
and towels and carpets.
• They must leave old friends behind. Plan a
going-away party and let them invite their
own guests to bring closure to that parting.
• Take pictures of everyone and make a
photo album. If a child is old enough, send
him or her out with a roll of film in the
camera and the assignment to photograph
the scenes he’ll want to remember.
• Give each of them extra screen time so they
can keep in touch with people who are
important to them.
• Buy a stack of picture postcards that show
positive views of your new community and
encourage them to write messages to the
friends and relatives they left behind.
• Try to pack children’s things last and include
them in the packing process.
• Keep security objects such as a favorite teddy
bear or blanket close by. Keep your routine as
normal as possible. Regular eating and nap
times are important.
Encourage children to get outside and get to know the people and the neighborhood.
Encourage older children to distribute fliers for babysitting, lawn care, or car washing.
Encourage them to participate in school activities that appeal to them. Get them on sports
teams and into clubs. Throw a housewarming party for yourselves and invite all the adults
and children on the block.
Most teenagers see themselves as adult members of the family, and may
feel disrespected if they don’t hear about the move early in the process.
Also, they’ll need time to work through the ordeal of leaving their friends.
Ending relationships and saying goodbyes takes time, and is best done before the move.
Some relationships will be extremely difficult to bring to an end, and these will require
thoughtful, personalized planning. How, for instance, do you move a 17-year-old a
thousand miles from her steady boyfriend?
Even though teens seem more advanced in their social skills, they may worry a lot about
making friends and fitting in. Visit their new school and check out local activities and
employment opportunities for young people.
Communities have their own culture and way of doing things, and this is often reflected in
the way teens dress. How they look is really important to teens. Before spending money on
a new school wardrobe, your teen may want to observe what’s “in.” Purchasing a few new
outfits can often help a teen feel more comfortable.
It’s particularly important to let teens known that you want to hear about, and respect, their
concerns. Blanket assurances may seem to your teen like you’re dismissing his or her
feelings. It may help to explain that the move is a type of rehearsal for future changes, like
college or a new job.
At any age, get help if emotional problems arise. Ask a teacher for assistance. Consider
professional counseling. Don’t let a serious problem slide.
Eventually, the strangeness and temporary discomforts should diminish. New friends will
become good friends. The new house may become the family gathering place that your
grandchildren will visit on holidays. In the long run, everything will work out fine.