Moving from one house to another is seldom easy and fun for adults, but it can be especially troubling for children. However, if parents deal with their children’s concerns and needs thoughtfully, a lot of that distress and discomfort can be avoided.
Children see moving in a different way than their parents do, and they generally benefit much less from the change in their comfortable routine. Most often, a change in houses or communities heralds an important step forward for the adult members of the family. The family moves because Dad or Mom has a great new job or a promotion. They move because financial success has allowed the purchase of a bigger and nicer house in a different neighborhood. They move because they can finally afford private bedrooms for each child and perhaps a pool in the back yard.
These days, mobile and hard-striving people typically live in a house for about five years and then move on as their careers or fortunes allow. That short of a time span is only a small percentage of the life-to-date for a 30 or 40-year-old, but the same five years is half the lifetime of a 10-year-old, and it includes almost all the years they can remember. To a parent, this house may only be the place they have lived recently. They think of it as a way station on the road of life. However to the children it may be the only home they have ever really known, this is their house, the place they feel safe and comfortable.
To a child their house is the center of his or her world. A move threatens to take that safe place away and leave something totally strange and unknown in its place. All the familiar friends, schools, streets, trees and parks will no longer exist for them.
The impact of a move on an average child starts about the time he or she first hears that a parent has accepted a promotion, and often continues for about a year, until the new house becomes home, and memories of the previous place fade. It’s not necessary to announce this big change to children immediately, although they must hear about it from you before someone else breaks the news. Teenagers especially see themselves as adult members of the family, and will probably feel they have been left out if they don’t hear everything from you first.
It’s probably not a good idea to tell toddlers and preschoolers until they have to know. There is no point in making them worry far in advance. Announce the move in a totally positive way — you might say how proud you are that Daddy’s company has chosen him to manage a new office. Talk about what a beautiful city the new job is in, how nice the people are, and all the fun things there are to do there.
Videotape the new home or take pictures, if you can. Emphasize the positive points and be sure to include picture of each child’s new room. Try to name the house with some romantic description, like “Oak Lawn” for the big trees and the sloping lawn. The children may be losing the friends they may have known all their lives. They will likely have to leave behind their sports teams, clubs and favorite teachers. They will essentially have to start over in a new place, making friends, becoming accepted, and fitting into different groups.
Younger children need protection from fear of the unknown. Listen carefully to all their concerns, and respond quickly to calm their fears. It would be normal, for a young child to worry that his or her toy box or stuffed animals might be left behind. Assure them as you learn of their concerns. Probably the best tactic is to get the children actively involved in the whole 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, or pick out themes for their room. If they have to leave old friends behind find ways to make that parting as pleasant as possible.
Some relationships will be extremely difficult to break and these will demand very thoughtful, delicate planning by both parents. For instance, how do you move a 16-year-old 1,000 miles from her boyfriend? Expect that your children may be even more distressed after the move than they were before it. The new house will not be beautiful the night after the moving van leaves, or for some time after. The furniture won’t be in place; there will be boxes everywhere. The children won’t know anyone at school and, if you move during the summer, they may have little opportunity to meet anyone their age until school starts.
After the move, it might be a good idea to give each of them a long distance telephone call allowance so they can keep in touch with the people back home who matter the most to them. Buy a stack of picture postcards that show positive views of your new community, and encourage them to write to their friends and relatives they left behind. To help them make new friends, make sure the children don’t vegetate in front of the television. Get them outside, have them pass out fliers to do babysitting or car washing. Get them on sports teams and into clubs. If they aren’t making new friends fast enough, throw a housewarming party or barbeque for yourselves and invite all the adults and children on the block.
If serious emotional or attitude problems arise, you may need to seek professional help for them. Ask a teacher for help or consider counseling. Don’t let a serious problem slide. New friends will become old friends and best friends. This new house may become the family homestead your grandchildren will visit every holiday season.
You may be faced with many more problems in your new community than they will, but remember that you can handle them more easily than they can. They will need your help, and you should plan to give them the support they need. As with any transition there will be challenges and discomforts, but given some time these things can be worked through and everything will work out fine.