Moving can be one of the most stressful times in a person's life. This is even more stressful if you not only have to worry about boxing up your whole life but also have to get your child/children ready for the move. If your child has a social, emotional, behavioral. or mental health difficulty it can be a balancing act to make sure that they're prepared both physically and mentally to leave their house and transition into another one. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance wanted to give you some easy tricks and tips to ensure that your child's mental health stays at the forefront of your moving process.
This is the first, and most important step to making sure that your child is going to be okay with the move ahead of them. Tell your child as early as possible about the move and discuss it often. This will allow them to process the move at their own pace, and hopefully be as ready as possible for it. While they could be sad about leaving your current home, they will more likely than not have a stronger reaction to being scared of the unknown place that is to come. In order to prepare for a reaction like that make sure that you know as much about the new house, neighborhood, and school as possible. Encourage your children to ask as many questions they want as often as they want so that they can air out all of their confusion and concerns.
Older children are often nervous about being "the new kid" at school. Friendships and peer interactions are very important for your kids so introducing them to neighborhood children that will attend their new school can make them feel like they have an ally on their first day of school. If possible, try enrolling them in an outside activity in the new area in advance of the move so they can see a few friendly faces on their first day. Another idea is to check out apps like Nextdoor or search Facebook groups to see if you can find a family willing to share information about the hidden social rules of your school.
If you are a parent that has a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge chances are you have a relationship with your child's current school. One way for both you and your child to feel more in control of the move is to arrange a visit with the new school. This allows for them to not only see the size and layout of the school but hopefully, you and your child will be able to start a communication pathway with some of the administration, teachers, and students at the school. Try to plan a visit during off-hours when the school is fairly empty so they can walk the halls to find the bathrooms, locate their locker, learn their combination and unlock it a few times without an audience. It's also helpful if they can visit their new classrooms in the order of their schedule to help with any navigation challenges they may have. Anything that can be done to help minimize their fears of being "the new kid" will be greatly beneficial when the move comes.
2. Give them some control
One way to get them both excited and invested in the move is to give them some control and allow them to help with it. Let them help in the packing process but more importantly let them help with unpacking the new house. Give them some say on how their new room is going to be set up and look. This will allow them to have a sense of pride in the move and the new house. Depending on the age of your child giving them the reigns on what stuff they want to keep and what they want to donate during the process of packing will ensure that they don't feel like they are losing the house and all things that are in it.
3. Show them how much will stay the same
If your child is young they could have a hard time grasping that all of the stuff you are packing into boxes will not be gone forever, it will just be moved to a new house. Change can be scary for them and showing them that all of their toys, books, and furniture will be at the new house for them can help alleviate some of their stress. Parents of children with social, emotional, behavioral. or mental health difficulties understand how important routine is for children. Keeping as much the same with dinners, bedtime, and homework routines will help them to see that although the physical house might be changing their whole life is not.
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4. Allow them to grieve their "old life"
Recognize that your child is being uprooted from all they know at the moment and leaving all of the teachers, friends, and neighbors that they have grown to love. This can cause a negative reaction to moving and it is important to let them feel this. When dealing with mental health and emotions it is important to validate what your child is feeling and encourage them to continue sharing their feelings with you. It can be helpful if you give them time to say official "goodbyes" to their friends, teachers, and neighbors that they will miss. By giving them this closure while reminding them that they can stay in contact with all of the people they want to from your old neighborhood they will more easily process the new life changes they are undergoing.
5. Make the new house/neighborhood fun
Every parent knows that if their children are excited about something, it makes it a lot easier for the parents. Share with your children that while leaving the old house and school district is sad and they are allowed to feel those feelings; the new home is a fresh start. Brainstorm some of the best activities in your new area, the coolest things about the new house, or anything that your kids would be interested in. Whether it is allowing them to eat pizza in the living room before all the couches are there, or showing them how cool the park down the street is, these little positive glimpses of their new lives can get them excited. If you have the opportunity to take them to the house or neighborhood before the move try and explore the area together. Make them feel like this town, although new, will be just as much of a part of them as the old town.
All of these tips can help ensure that your child's adjustment is as smooth as possible to the new area. Above all else give your child, your partner, and yourself grace during this intense and stressful time. Moving is exhausting, expensive, and hard and it is okay to feel those feelings. But try to remind yourself and your family that while the walls around you might be changing, the love inside them is here to stay.