Make The Move Easy On The Kids
Moving from one house to
another is seldom easy or fun for adults and it can be especially troubling for
children. If parents deal with their children's concerns and needs
thoughtfully, much of that distress and discomfort can be avoided.
Children see moves
differently than their parents do, and they benefit much less from the change in
their comfortable routines, or so it seems at the time. Most often, a
change in houses or communities heralds an important step forward for the adult
members of the family. The family moves because Daddy or Mommy has a great
new job or a promotion in reward for years of hard work. They move because
financial success has allowed the purchase of a bigger and nicer house in a more
costly neighborhood. They move because they can finally afford private
bedrooms for each child and perhaps a pool in the back yard. In the
1990's, mobile and hard striving people typically live in a house for about four
years and then move on as their careers or fortunes allow. That short time
span is only a small percentage of the life-to-date for a 30 or 40 year old, but
the same four years is half the life-time of an 8 year old, and it includes
almost all the years he or she can remember. To a parent, this house may
be only the place they have lived recently. They think of it as a weigh
station on the road of life. To kids, however, it may be the only home
they have ever really known. This is their house, the place they feel safe
and comfortable and thoroughly at home with. A house is much more than a
roof and walls to a child. It is the center of his or her world. A
move threatens to take that sphere away and leave something totally strange in
its place. The familiar friends, schools, shops and theaters, the streets,
trees and parks - all will no longer exist for them. Everything soon will
be strange, and they will live in someone else's world.
The impact of a move on a
typical child starts about the time he or she first hears that daddy 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 usually
necessary to announce this big change to children immediately, although they
must hear about it from you before someone else breaks the news. Most
teenagers see themselves as adult members of the family, and will probably feel
they have been left out if they don't hear everything from the first day.
But is is 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.
Be sure to announce the move in a totally positive way. You might say how
proud you are that Daddy's company has chosen him out of many other employees to
manage a new office in Las Vegas. Talk about what a beautiful city Las
Vegas is and how good the schools are and how nice the people are. Tell
truthful but very positive stories about how nice the new house will be.
Ask them what the favorite things are in their lives now, and then try to make
them happen in the new home. If the new home is too far away to allow a
visit by the entire family after it has been selected, show the children
pictures of it from every angle. Videotape it, if you can. Emphasize
the positive views and be sure to include pictures of each child's new room.
Try to name the house with some romantic description like "Oak Hill" for the big
trees and the sloping lawn.
Sugar coating will help, but
since children can quickly see the negative sides of most situations, every
parent must plan to deal with their children's worries, fears and sorrows.
The children will lose friends they may have known all their lives. They
will leave behind their sports teams, their clubs and their dancing teachers.
They will 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 their concerns, and respond
quickly to allay their apprehensions. It would be normal, for instance,
for a young child to worry that his or her toy box and shelf of stuffed animals
might be left behind. Find those anxieties and correct them.
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, for
example. Take them to the paint store and let them bring home color
swatches. Shop for bed spreads and towels and carpets. They must
leave old friends behind, so find ways to make that parting almost pleasant.
Plan a going-away party and let them invite their own guests. 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 views they will want to remember. Some relationships will
be extremely difficult to break and these will demand careful, thoughtful,
personalized planning by both parents. How, for instance, do you move a
17-year old 1,000 miles from her steady 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
months after. The furniture won't fit the rooms. The curtains won't
be up, and every spot on the floor will be covered with half-unpacked cartons.
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. 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. After the
move, give each of them a long distance telephone call allowance so they can
deep 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 good news messages to the friends and relatives they
left behind. To make new friends, make sure the children don't vegetate in
front of the television. Get them outside, where neighbors pass by.
Have them pass out fliers to do baby-sitting or car washing. Encourage
them to participate in as many school activities as they can handle. Get
them on sports teams and into clubs.
If they - and you - aren't
making new friends fast enough, throw a housewarming party for yourselves and
invite all the adults and children on the block. If serious emotional or
attitudinal problems arise, however, help is usually available and probably
should be sought. Ask a teacher for help. Consider professional
counseling. Don't let a serious problem slide. Remember that the
newness will wear off. New friends will become old friends and best
friends. This new house may become the family homestead your grandchildren
will visit every holiday season. There will be discomforts, but in the
long run, everything will work out fine.