How and when do we tell our children that we'll be moving, and is there anything that we can do to make the move easier for them?
Needless to say, these questions are not new to parents faced with the prospect of a move, but you can take comfort in knowing that there are a number of things that you can do to make your relocation an exciting and rewarding experience for your children. The key lies in being sensitive to their feelings and concerns and in making them feel a part of the process.
"Children of different ages will have different reactions to a move," says Dr Joseph B. Keegan, a certified clinical psychologist. "What is important to understand is that different age groups tend to miss different things. Younger children tend to miss familiar people, a favourite teacher, for example - and safe and secure environments - such as church, school, even their bedrooms. Older children - especially teenagers - tend to miss their friends and others in the community with whom they've developed relationships."
First and foremost, you should tell your children about the move as soon as possible. A child shouldn't overhear the news by accident.
"For a child," notes Dr. Keegan, "much of the stress associated with moving relates to dealing with the unknown. Given this, it's important for you to talk to your children about the move. Share the details that you think they can understand, encourage their questions, and listen to what they have to say."
Also, involve your children in all aspects of your relocation. If possible, bring them with you on house-hunting trips; if not, photograph or videotape the house that you select, as well as the neighbourhood and new school.
Allow your children to participate in planning the move. "When possible," suggests Dr. Keegan, "ask your children to perform small jobs that are age-appropriate and that can often be made enjoyable."
For example, you might consider asking your children for their input regarding the decor and layout of their new rooms. And let them pack a box or two of their toys, games and other personal belongings.
Dr. Keegan also advises that you encourage your children to take the time to say good-bye to their friends and maintain ties by having them exchange addresses and telephone numbers. A letter or phone call to or from an old friend can go a long way toward boosting the spirits of anyone especially a child - in a strange, new community.
Provide your children with a sense of continuity. If they're in the scouts, little league, or a school band or choir, for example, enroll them in the same or similar activities in the new community as soon as possible.
With respect to the quality of your children's education in the new community, don't be afraid to contact teachers and principals at prospective schools. You have every right to inquire about average test scores, attendance rates, special programs, teacher/student ratio, extracurricular activities, etc. For high schools, ask about accreditation and the percentage of students continuing on to college.
While many parents consider the summer months to be the best time to relocate to avoid disrupting their children's education, many families who've moved before have learned that there are definite advantages to moving during the school year.
If you arrive in a new community during the summer, you're likely to find that organized activities are already under way, and it may be too late for your children to participate. Often, too, neighbourhood kids are on vacation or away at camp during the summer, making it difficult to make new friends immediately. And at the beginning of the school year, teachers may not have extra time to pay special attention to the needs of the "new kid at school".
When a child transfers during the school year, however, teachers and students have already overcome those "back to school" transitions, and teachers have more time to spend to help orient the transferred child to his or her new school. Transferring during the school year also provides your child with a much better means of meeting other children. Finally, your child benefits by getting into a daily routine of school and related activities.
Dr.Keegan notes that, although a move can be stressful, most children adjust quite well within a very short period of time. "However," he warns, "don't overlook some of the warning signs that may indicate that a child is having difficulty adjusting. If your child has difficulty sleeping, is irritable or has outbursts of anger, it may be useful to seek the advice of your pediatrician or other professional."
Overall, the single most important factor that determines how well a child copes with a move is the parents' attitude. If Mom and Dad position the relocation as an exciting adventure - if they focus on the opportunities for the entire family - children will be far more likely to accept the situation in a positive manner.