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Helping Your Children Make the Move

Charles Dickens wrote “Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” As accurate a description as that may before many of us, the feel of “home” is especially important for children, making the decision to move your family to a new home a weighty matter indeed. For adults without children, moving to a new place can feel like a fresh start, an exciting adventure. For children, moving may be unsettling or even frightening, but there are some positive and reassuring ways to help guide your children through the moving experience.

If you are moving by choice and not out of necessity, first, consider the timing of your move in terms of the impact on your children. Summer can be a relatively good time to move in to a new neighborhood: children are out of school, allowing for plenty of time to make new friends before the next school year begins. However, if all of the neighborhood children are already signed up for organized summer sports and activities, summer can turn out to be a lonely season for your child, so make sure to look into those activities well ahead of your move, even registering them for some if you can. Park Districts and faith communities in your new city are a good place to start looking.

It is also wise, if moving by choice, to consider the ages of your children when contemplating a move. While moving with a baby can be higher stress for parents, as a rule, babies seem to experience less moving-related stress than older children. The prevailing rule of thumb used to be that the older the child, the more difficult the moving experience will be. Indeed, many experts agree that adolescence is not the ideal age for a child to be moving away from their established peer relationships. However, a new school of thought is emerging regarding the impact of moving on younger children as well. In his article “Best Practices in Assisting Relocating Families”, Frederic J. Medway cautions that preschoolers, in particular, are also quite “vulnerable to moving-related stresses.” Medway attributes preschoolers’ increased vulnerability to their lack of fully developed coping skills; their inability to completely understand at a cognitive level the need for their family to move; and an inherent difficulty in dealing with changes to familiar surroundings. The bottom line is that moving can be stressful for children at all ages, but seems to affect preschoolers and adolescents to the greatest degree.

Moving does not have to be traumatic for your children, however; there are many things that you can do as a parent to help reduce the impact for them, right from the moment you share the news with them.

Sharing the news: Your demeanor as you tell your children of the move will greatly influence their reaction to it. If you are glum or morose, they will view a move as a negative event; if you are upbeat and positive, they are more likely to receive the news in a similar fashion. If possible, be prepared with information about when the move will occur and what your new city and home will be like should your children ask.

Reassure your children: Younger children tend to be very concerned about what possessions may be left behind, so be prepared to answer repeatedly the question “Will we be bringing this?” Even if it is an item of little or no value to you, to your child, the item may represent security and a sense of permanence; now is not the time to break your child of his security blanket habit. One good idea is to make a “Same and Different” book for your child, highlighting what things will be the same after the move and what things will be different. Take some pictures of your old house, your child’s school or teachers, and your neighborhood. Try to get some pictures of your new house, school, etc., and place them in a booklet, labeling them, for example, “This is the park by my old house. This is the park by my new house.” This will help reduce your child’s natural fear of the unknowns that lie ahead, making the new already seem familiar.

Make time for goodbyes: As busy as you are with all that a move entails, continue your child’s activities and playdates as much as possible. It’s very tempting to declare that you’re just too busy, but it’s important for them to maintain their scheduled activities. It absolutely may be difficult to schedule individual playdates for your children to say goodbye to their friends; in that case, schedule one large playdate for your children and a few of their favorite friends. Hold it at a park or a restaurant playland and distribute your new address and telephone number to children and their parents as they leave.

Introduce the pen-pal concept: Work with your friends, your children’s teachers, and your neighbors to create a photo address book for your child. Ask your children’s friends to provide a photo and their name, address, and phone number (you may even provide a sheet for them to use, so that the pages of the book will be uniform) and make a book. It doesn’t have to be fancy; in fact, if you use a simple paper folder, your child can have fun decorating it while you’re working at unpacking boxes in your new home. Present the pages and folder to your child after the move, just as they may be beginning to miss some of their old familiar friends. Encourage your children to write letters as often as they like, providing them with special stationery, stamps, or even address labels. It’s great writing and reading practice, it helps your children learn their new address quickly, it really helps keep those old friendships alive, and children love to receive their own letters in the mail! For younger children, allow them to send drawings or to dictate their letters to you, and help them read the letters they receive in return.

Get a sitter for moving day: For children, seeing their home, in their minds, “torn apart” piece by piece on moving day can be a very traumatic experience, whether you move yourselves or have a professional moving company doing the job.

Getting settled in your new home: While it’s important for children to see their new house start to feel like a home quickly, it’s also important for them to make new friends and explore the new neighborhood, as well as to have your attention and caring during the moving transition. So have one box or bag set aside full of a couple of your children’s treasured items—maybe a special nightlight or a figurine from a beloved grandparent. Unpack that box or bag first, along with the minimum items you need in order to get along for the first day or two. Then set unpacking aside to go exploring and to begin meeting new neighbors and friends. Those boxes will be there tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow), but your children need to settle in now. Be flexible about the rhythms of life in your new community, especially if there is a time change. Maybe your children always go to bed early, but in your new neighborhood, they play until much later—relax your schedule a little bit, and let them make some new friends.

Set a good example: If you want your children to explore, to make new friends, to learn about their new community, they will need to follow you as an example. Even if you are normally a shy person or don’t read maps particularly well, this is the time to learn to strike out on your own, to start utilizing online maps, and to try new activities yourself. How you handle the transition will help your children learn how to handle it as well, so remember that your children will be looking to you for their cues.

Listen to Pliny: The most important bit of advice about moving is an ancient one, from Pliny the Elder: he wrote “Home is where the heart is.” No matter where your family moves, or the reason why you move, remember that it is not the walls and the roof that make your house a home: it is the love shared within those walls. Be extra patient and extra loving with your children throughout your move; everything will eventually fall into place, and your new house will transform itself into a new home for you and for your family!

Julia Tagliere

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June 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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