Changing schools, adjusting to a new home, saying goodbye to friends—it’s a lot to ask from our children, to say the least. A huge body of evidence suggests moving puts a lot of strain on kids’ mental health and development, since the adjustment represents a turbulent time in young lives— just in case you needed to pile on a little more parental guilt.
However, for all the hand-wringing, families with children still move every day, and yet the vast majority are able to take it in stride and grow up to be successful, healthy adults. In fact, it’s the context surrounding the move—and what happens after you relocate—that really counts. For instance, most research compares moves as if they were all the same, but it’s safe to say that moving for a parent’s job could have different outcomes than relocation due to eviction. Here’s how moving influences your young ones’ lives—and what you can do to make the process as painless as possible.
- Children Need Extra Attention During a Move. If that line about childhood development gave you heart palpitations, relax. Just changing homes is not going to ruin your kid’s chances for a successful adulthood. A Danish study that looked into the issue found that switching schools three times or more during childhood increases children’s risk for developing psychosis-like symptoms, such as hallucinations and interrupting thoughts. The findings suggest not that there’s necessarily a link between multiple moves and mental health outcomes in adulthood, but that children may need extra attention in this case, in order to keep their development on track.
- Parental Intervention Throughout a Move Makes a Difference. Although moving is stressful for children, a strong bond with a parent, caregiver, or other adult can make all the difference. Strong family ties improve children’s ability to cope with difficulties, so make sure to check in with your little one throughout your move. Allow your child to express all their feelings—even if they make you feel a little bit guilty. After the move, spend time doing some fun things with your kids, and give them a chance to see how awesome your new neighborhood can be!
- Watch Out for Signs of Bullying in a New School. Changing schools obviously causes a social shakeup for your children, who have to learn to get along with a whole new set of kids. Often, this leaves children vulnerable to bullies, and when that happens, it puts your little ones’ mental health at risk. Signs of bullying include unexplained injuries, lost possessions, or faked ailments and multiple sick days. Bullied kids may also have interrupted sleep, changes in eating habits, and poor grades, so keep a careful eye on your kids as they make their transition into a new school. If you need help dealing with bullying, the STOMP Out Bullying organization has some great information.
- Empower Your Children to Make the Best of Things. Moving can make a kid feel powerless—after all, they didn’t make the decision to switch homes. But research suggests that children can bounce back from stressful situations like a move if they believe they have some ability to influence what happens in their lives. Psychologists call this an “internal locus of control”—the belief that we have control over our circumstances, rather than being victims of fate. Encourage this attitude in your children as you talk about the move. Tell them that they have the ability to make the best of it, and to get through the process intact. And make sure to practice what you preach! Moving may seem like an impossible obstacle, but in the end, you and your kids can make your new home work!
Basically, if you want your kids to stay happy and healthy throughout the adjustment period, just keep doing what you do best: spend lots of time with them, pay attention to their behavior—and give them plenty of love!
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