Many families move over the summer which means back to school is particularly stressful for the kids. Two years ago my family experienced this when we moved to a new home in a new community. The prospect of moving made my usually easygoing 9-year-old son anxious and afraid. He understood why we had to move. We wanted more room to accommodate our growing family. In our previous home 5 people shared one bathroom. In the summer, a tree in yard became our powder room. We needed to get out of there. Still, moving meant our son was leaving behind the comfort of a school he’d been in since kindergarten and friends he had known all his life. No wonder he was upset.
During the process my husband and I tried to help him manage the transition the best we could.
Here are some tips to make your child's move as easy as possible:
- Help them process their feelings: Humans are creatures of habit not creatures of change. Change can be uncomfortable. Validate what your kids are feeling about the move even if it sounds silly to you. Let them cry on your shoulder. Help them make sense of what they are feeling, and remind them that they will not always feel this way.
- It takes time: You will have to say this to your child again and again in the beginning. I remember my son telling me he was making friends, but they didn’t know him like his old friends know him. First, I validated his feelings, and then I reminded him he’d only known them for 3 weeks. It takes time, but they (and you) will adapt to the new situation.
- Don’t catastrophize: When something goes wrong (and it will), you and/or your kids might worry that the move was a huge mistake. Remember, just because it feels like a mistake in the moment doesn’t make it true in the long run. Keep in mind you thought long and hard about the move and decided to do it. There were multiple times during moments of stress when I thought, “this move has ruined my son’s life.” Of course, I was wrong.
- Get involved: Get your kid involved in activities they enjoy, soccer, theater, scouts, etc. It’s a great way to meet other kids who share their interests. If you don’t know what’s available in your new area, find out. In the age of local Facebook pages it’s easy to find people ready and willing to share their knowledge of community recourses.
- Lead by example: Introduce yourself to the neighbors. Meet the teachers. Join the PTSA. Join a local group of people who share your interests (a book group, an arts group, a sports group). Invite your kids’ new friends and their parents over for a party. My husband and I volunteered to host a cast party for kids in our son’s school play. The party was the turning point for him.
- Maintain connections to old friends: Encourage your child maintain contact with friends from their old school. Technology makes this easy to do. Our son still stays in touch with old friends via Skype, Text, phone and the occasional play date.
- Manage your anxiety: Moving is stressful for you as well as your child. Try to maintain your regular self-care habits if possible. Eat right, exercise, meditate, etc. Treat yourself to a massage, a pedicure or other special treat. Also, get support from friends and family as you navigate this change. For more suggestions take a look at my post on crisis survival strategies.
- Seek Help: If you or your child continues to struggle even after trying the strategies above, consider seeing a therapist.
My son got involved in the school play and basketball. It took some time, but he developed a great group of new friends while maintaining his connection to the old ones. Two years later he can't imaging living anywhere else. All in all, it was a successful move and yours can be, too.