Relocation Hard on Kids

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Moving to another town or community is stressful for any adult. It's even harder for children. On the one hand, moving means losing home, friends, a familiar school, and neighborhood, and the other, to encounter unknown peers and teachers. It is a loss, and children go through the grieving process before they can positively adapt to such a change. About one in six families move every year. People of 20 to 35 year of age relocate more than people of any other age group. As a result of that, a large number of pre-schoolers and school-going children move to new homes and schools leaving behind the familiar and comfortable surroundings.

Research indicates that moving is hardest on male teenagers and "at-risk children." At-risk children are those who have or had emotional, behavioral or academic problems.

Furthermore, if moving is caused by a stressful event, such as parental separation, divorce, or unemployment, children are hit with a "double whammy." All such children deserve special attention.

The good news is that the negative effects of moving are temporary. Most children adjust fairly quickly, make new friends, and bounce back to their previous level of school and sports achievement. At-risk children can also be helped with support and special care. With a little social and/or professional help, at-risk children certainly do better than those who are left to fend for themselves.

Children who make good grades, have good social skills, whose families have good financial, educational, and social resources, adjust well to the new environment. Generally, girls do better than boys as girls are more flexible, skilled and communicative. They also tend to initiate relationship with their new peers more easily than do boys.

Boys, when relocated are more likely to be teased, bullied or rejected. They generally have a more difficult time in initiating relationships. Children under 5- 6 years of age don't have sufficient understanding of the ways of the world. Since they can't appreciate the reasons for moving, they are likely to repeatedly complain about moving and ask, "Why?" Older children have a different problem. The older the child, the more difficult the move, because peer relations become increasingly important as the child grows older. Adolescents who have poor peer relationships and get picked on a lot become highly anxious about moving.

Children whose parent or parents have negative feelings about moving, are also likely to have a difficult adjustment period. Some families move not for better financial or job prospects, but for personal and familial reasons. Example: one spouse wants to be close to his or her family of origin and the other spouse gives in and agrees to move. As they relocate, while one spouse feels connected, reenergized and enjoys the experience, the other spouse feels dislocated and out of place. Children of this couple not only have to adjust to the change but also to cope with the tension at home. Furthermore, if one of the parent gets depressed, the child may have the onus of supporting the depressed parent. Here is what parents can do to make this transition easier for a child:

1. Prepare a child well in advance. Talk about the move as a family. Depending on the age of child, explain the move in such a way that he or she can understand and appreciate your reasons for moving.

2. Accept and acknowledge a child's feelings about losing friends and the familiar environment, and about the changes the child will have to adapt to.

3. Involve children in making decisions that you consider affordable and appropriate for your child. For example, involve the child in selecting articles for his/her new bedroom, study desk, other personal articles, etc.

4. Depending on the age of your children, assign them tasks to gather information about the new place, for example, location of a gym, Y.M.C.A, schools in the area, etc.

5. Move during the summer, if possible, to minimize school -change problems.

6. Manage your own stress and try to stay calm around children.

7. Request the new school to provide a "buddy" to take the child around the school and introduce to other children.

8. Arrange for professional help if a child is at risk.

9. Arrange for additional tutoring for a child who has learning difficulties.

10. Ask your child how you can make this transition easier for him or her.

With adequate preparation and participation in the moving process, children will have mixed feelings about the move. Although, some feelings of discomfort are preparing ahead of time, will minimize long-term problems.


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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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