If you’ve ever made a move (and who hasn’t), then you know how stressful it can be trying to get everything lined up and ready to go. It can get so hectic that the physical relocation doesn’t hit you until you’re already in your next home. But for kids, the change is looming from the moment they learn they are moving.
Dr. Ehrin Weiss is a licensed psychologist that has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a child and family focus. At Houston Family Psychology she has helped children, adolescents and divorcing families cope with a variety of issues in addition to managing relaxation and stress-management groups for cancer patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Weiss thoroughly understands the psychological effects that a move can have on children and adolescents. Recently she sat down with us to discuss the root of the problem and how parents can help their children ease into the transition of relocating and avoid mental or emotional setbacks.
Why Children and Adolescents Have a Tough Time Moving
For children the stress caused by moving manifests from fear of the unknown and loss of what’s familiar. Then there’s the sense of detachment from friends and family that they’ve begun forming bonds with over the years. Dr. Weiss explained that while most kids are able to adjust with little difficulty, some children may find it more challenging than others.
“Children who already struggle with high levels of negative emotion – children who are often sad or mad or who have a lot of fears and worries – are at a higher risk for developing problems related to a move or an increase in those existing emotions,” said Dr. Weiss. This includes children in families with a history of mental health problems, even if the child hasn’t exhibited problems in the past.
How Age Factors In
Age can also play a significant role in how kids cope with a move. In her practice, Dr. Weiss often sees teenagers react with more sadness and anger when faced with moving. Friends are very important in forming an identity during the teen years. Dr. Weiss pointed out that it’s not uncommon for teens to feel like they are being taken away from their friends. She said teens also feel, “the anxiety of fitting into a new environment.”
Younger children tend to think about and process what’s going on differently. Rather than anger or resentment, they may experience more concern around making new friends and fitting in at their new school.
Multiple Moves Can Lead to Bigger Problems
One move during childhood can be tough enough on a kid. Multiple moves can completely disrupt their sense of security and ability to develop appropriate peer relationships or attachments, says Dr. Weiss. If you’ve already made a move within the last few years or there have been other recent life changes then the likelihood for stress is increased.
How Parents Can Help Their Kids Cope with a Move
Dr. Weiss says there are a number of things that parents can do to make the transition easier on their kids, starting with letting them know what to expect. “Once parents know a move is going to happen, the best thing parents can do is let the kids know the family is moving and when it is happening.”
During the initial discussion parents should:
- Explain what will be the same and what will be different after the move
- Answer any questions that their child has about the move
- Keep the discussion upbeat and positive
- Point out things that the child can look forward to after the move
This first discussion about the move will set the tone and can help to ease anxieties right from the start. Of course, many children will understandably still be surprised and have concerns. Dr. Weiss suggests that parents use the following tips to help their children throughout the move.
- Keep communicating with your kids and providing support if they have concerns about moving.
- Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings while still maintaining a positive attitude.
- If you have young children find books about moving that you can read together.
- If you have older kids encourage them to make a plan for staying in touch with friends after the move.
- Look for major changes in behavior or negative emotions, as these are signs that your child may be having trouble coping with the move. Frequent complaints about the move are another indicator.
Above all else, Dr. Weiss says that patience is the key. “It can take time for kids to adjust. When we expect things to happen faster than they’re happening, it can make it seem like a situation is worse than it really is.”