If you're a kid in America, you don't have much say when your family decides to move houses. Foreclosures are grown-up talk. So is job loss and job change.
Even the good stuff -- yay, Mommy got a promotion, and we're moving to Paris! -- means taking a toddler away from that cuddly bedroom in the corner of the house, their favorite tree, and that creaky step they love to jump on. Moving houses means turmoil for kids, and with one in every 200 homes in America facing foreclosure, moving is imminent for thousands of children.
The Stir asked child, adolescent, and family psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein how to keep it kid-friendly.
Is there an age when moving starts to affect kids?
Moving may not impact infants too much, as they are just becoming aware of their surroundings, but once they become toddlers, moving can begin to have an impact on children. Young children view their families as the center of the universe, so any significant changes may make them worry.
What are some normal reactions parents can expect from their kids when they talk about moving?
Young children may worry that they will lose things they love or even get lost themselves, or left behind in the move. They may have a lot of questions about moving. Don't trivialize these inquiries: answer them, to the best of your ability. Let your toddler and young child be involved in planning their room or some elements of the room.
Preteens and teenagers may have different reactions to a move than younger children. Moving is very hard on young adolescents, whose friends are the center of their world. Moving may mean leaving these friends and having to make new ones. Being part of the crowd is such an important component for teens that a significant worry may be how this will happen.
Similarly to younger kids, talk openly with your older children. Be prepared for some emotional reactions, and don't run from it. Come up with a plan of saying goodbye to friends (in today's [world] with video chat and Skype, it's much easier to "see" people who live far away too). Involve your older child in planning their room, learning about the community etc.
What are normal reactions when they actually move?
Not all children will have a problem with moving. Some will go along with it as if it's nothing. Parents are stressed out, which may impact the behaviors of their children (kids do pick up on their parents' stress). It is possible for young children to be more anxious, exceedingly clingy, have some temper tantrums.
Others may regress to an earlier developmental stage and begin engaging in behaviors they had moved away from (have accidents when previously potty trained). Older children may continue to feel angry and anxious as they have to meet new people and make new friends.
There is no easy answer about "what to expect." That said, your child's personality will help give you some information. If your child is generally a slower to warm up kind of child, the move may be harder on her than your other child who is very outgoing.
How can parents ease kids into the move? Any keywords to use in the discussion?
- Involve children in the move as early, and as much, as possible.
- Try to maintain daily routines if you can.
- Be patient and empathize with your children's feelings. They may not be as excited about this as you are. Model feelings for your children: maybe you are also feeling uncertain at times. Let your children know this.
- Promote peer interactions. Use books (see list below), movies, or other pop culture references to talk about how different kinds of characters cope with moving.
Are there any tricks during the move itself?
Moving is an ongoing process. For younger kids, a good idea is to move their things last if possible, as it will help them know that their things are not being lost and that they are not being left behind.
Take the time to stop -- even when you are frazzled -- to talk with your children. It's a stressful time for everyone to some degree, and it's important to slow down to talk about it. That will be one of the best ways to navigate the emotions and reactions that may arise.
Want to prepare your kids for a move? Try a children's book about the process:
- We Are Best Friends by Aliki: A little boy's best buddy leaves town, but he finds a new one ... who needs a new friend too. A great book to help lessen the pain of leaving friends behind.
- Bella and Stella Come Home by Anika Denise: A new book hitting shelves this month, The Stir's review copy revealed a little girl's attempts to come to terms with how different her new house is from the old, and how comforts like her stuffed animal make all the difference.
- I'm Not Moving, Mama by Nancy White Carlstrom: Fighting the move is a natural reaction, but Little Mouse learns just how important he is to his family when they make the move.
- Moving Day: Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin. Part of the popular Katie Woo series, a familiar character will help them settle into a new place.
How have you prepped your kids for a move?
Image via RBerteig/Flickr