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Moving With Children

To gain insight into how children are impacted by a household move, Allied asked expert Dr. Tom Olkowski, Ph.D., a respected clinical psychologist in private practice with children, families, and adults in Denver. The following questions and answers reflect Dr. Olkowski's research into the subject.

+ At what age will a child be most affected by a move?

The general rule is "The younger the child, the easier the move." Younger children depend on parents for their sense of security so their concerns will revolve around the safety of family members, pets and important possessions. Older children and teenagers who are working on becoming independent and establishing relationships outside the family usually experience greater difficulty.

+ How do you handle a child who doesn't want to move?

Almost all children express an initial resistance to the idea of moving simply because they don't know what it involves, but children typically follow their parents lead in adjusting to a move.

+ Do you feel that children and their emotions have a tendency to be overlooked during a family move?

Moving can be a hectic time for families. Sometimes parents get so busy they can overlook how children are feeling about a move. That's why it's important for parents to make time to sit down and talk with the kids about their feelings, questions and concerns about the move. And why it's important for parents to help kids feel involved in the move by assigning each child little tasks to do.

+ Can a move have a negative impact on a child?

Very simply, it can -- but it doesn't have to. Moving can be a difficult and unsettling experience for children because it entails sadness about saying good-bye to friends and familiar places, apprehension about what their new school and neighborhood will be like, and possibly even anger about the thought that their parents are forcing them to move. Surveys report that many children regard moving to be one of the most stressful experiences of their lives, but with proper planning and teamwork a move can be an exciting and positive experience for the entire family.

+ What's the one thing a parent should guard against happening during a child's move?

The most important thing for parents to do during a move is to make sure that they don't overlook a child's reactions to it. Some children will let you know exactly how they're feeling by what they say or how they behave, while others may withdraw and not say a word. But if a child isn't asking questions or talking about the move, it may be a signal that he is worried or anxious about it, and parents need to create opportunities to talk about the move and reassure the child.

+ What signs should parents look for that might indicate a child is having a difficult time with a move?

Significant cues to look for during a move are things like: sleep problems or nightmares, excessive crying, frustration, or outbursts of anger, a reluctance to leave the house or be away from parents, unreasonable fears or a resistance toward engaging in activities with other children. For most children these behaviors should disappear over time as the child becomes more familiar with his new surroundings, but if they increase or persist for long periods of time, parents should seek the advice of a pediatrician or mental health professional.

+ Is it best to move during the school year, or when school is out?

The reality is that families move when they have to move, and they don't always have the opportunity to choose exactly when that will be. If they do have a choice, it's generally better to move during the summer so that children can get acquainted with the new neighborhood and then focus on starting school with their new classmates on the first day of school rather than having to adjust to both a new neighborhood and a new school at the same time.

+ How long does it usually take for children to adjust to a new home and school?

It's important for parents to be patient and realize that every child will adjust to a new home on his/her own personal schedule, and many children will go through a grieving process. One child in the family may be totally excited about getting a room of his own and adjust easily, while another may take significantly longer because of the sadness of leaving close friends. Kids lose their home, their school, their friends -- most of what children hold important to them will be lost. The adjustment period may take anywhere from six months to 18 months depending on the age of the child, friendships outside the family, the reasons for the move, or simply the child's attachment to his old home.

+ What are some steps parents can take to ensure that a move can be a positive experience?

Teamwork is definitely the key to a successful family move. Assign everyone in the family a list of moving tasks.

  • Have kids sort through their belongings to discard broken toys and clothes that no longer fit.
  • Have them write addresses on cartons with a marker as a way of helping them remember their new address.
  • Have them pack a carton or daypack with their most prized possessions to carry with them on moving day in order to give them a greater sense of security.

Be sure to talk about the move as a family. Hold regular family meetings to answer questions, to share information and to talk about how people are feeling. Look for quiet moments when you can talk to the kids about their questions and concerns about the move. Plan ahead and take time to physically relax from the rigors of moving, enjoy familiar family activities, and explore your new neighborhood together after the move.