Some of the best advice I received as a child was, “If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.” Of course that may be a little simplistic many times. So, what can you do as parents to help the process go a bit smoother?
- Timing of Moves
If at all possible, try to plan your move during the summer. Moving in the middle of a school year is devastating to a child of any age, and creates unnecessary problems. Moving as close to the beginning of the summer, you can investigate prior to the move what activities are available for your kiddos. They can then get to know children their own age, and maybe meet some they will be in school with the next year. If all your household goods have not yet arrived, take swim lessons in the morning or evening and frequent the local library when the sun is unforgiving. But I watched as a family unwittingly put the pressure on their seventh and fifth graders by assuming they would just be fine, after all kids are so flexible; those two children never forgot the pain of that adjustment period.
- Availability and Encouragement
Reminding your children you are always available…and then being there…is so very important. Children catch on quickly where their safe place is, and you certainly want it to be your home, not someone else’s. In fact, a bit of preparation goes a long way in equipping children with coping skills, especially if they have never moved before. Talking about the challenges they might come up against, then creating a plan together for coping is a great way to encourage family unity. Of course until the move has actually happened and the results are in full bloom, it may be difficult to see how everyone will react, so keep the plan a little flexible. Checking in with your kids regularly (weekly is a good idea) to see how things are going for them is a great idea. Showing reassurance and encouragement is imperative during this time.
Get involved in activities with your children. If you have older children, they may not want you blatantly visible, but you can bet they will know you are around…and that creates a warm safety. Just staying at the pool during swim lessons or at the ball park for baseball games lets them know you like them and are not leaving them to their own devices to make friends. And you never know you might make a friend, too.
- Books for Ideas
When you go to the library, check for books about children that experienced moving away from their friends. It would be extra terrific for you to read these with or to your kids; you both might discover other coping ideas. Turn this pretty stressful time into an opportunity, maybe even a sort of game. It would only be temporary and would be a memory for them to smile about in the future rather than reflecting on the most tearful time in their lives.
- Casual Activities
Sometime during the summer plan a low key cookout gathering with a couple of families that you have met. This is a great way to break the ice and allow folks into your home on a casual basis. If there is a pool nearby…or in your backyard… this is another way to encourage friendly exchanges.
- A Smile goes a Long Way
At the very least, do your best as parents to keep a positive attitude, but on the days loneliness is overwhelming, let your kids know it’s hard for you, too. Then hug and go play a game or make cookies together. As always if your children see that you are “normal,” they won’t feel so much like something is wrong with them…and that it too will pass. Another bit of friendly advice, “If you get a smile by all means return it.”
Moving is certainly a major stressful change in everyone’s life. Children are resilient, but they appreciate consideration of what they are going through as much as we as parents do. However, it really is a temporary happening and need not linger into forever. As the family establishes itself in the community and neighborhood, the kids will slowly assimilate as well, each day becoming much easier. Everyone may still experience a few sad days, but an understanding pat on the shoulder or hug, will go a long way.
Jessica Brown lives in Austin and is a psychologist. She commonly blogs about tips for overcoming anxiety for children.