Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Children and Family Moves
Moving to a new community may be one of the most stressful
experiences a family faces. Frequent moves or even a single
move can be especially hard on a youngster, and this stress
occurs even when there are siblings.
Moves interrupt friendships. To a child at a new school, it
may at first seem that everyone else has a best friend or is
securely involved in a clique. The child must get used to a
different curriculum. The child may find that he or she is
ahead in certain subjects and behind in others, causing
boredom and anxiety.
Children in kindergarten or first grade may be particularly
vulnerable to a family move because developmentally they are
just in the process of separating from their parents and
adjusting to new authority figures and peer groups. The
relocation can interfere with the normal process of
separation by causing them to return to a more dependent
relationship with their parents.
In general, the older the child is, the more difficulty he
or she will have with the move because of the increasing
importance of peer groups. Preteens and teenagers may
repeatedly protest the move or ask to stay in their hometown
with a friend's family.
Some youngsters may not talk about their distress, so
parents should be aware of the warning signs of depression.
These signs include changes in appetite, withdrawal, a drop
in grades, irritability, sleep disturbances, or other
dramatic changes in behavior.
Children who seem depressed by a move may be reacting less
to the relocation than to the stress of their parents
settling in to a new area. Sometimes one parent may be
against the move, and children will sense and react to this
If a child shows persistent signs of depression or distress,
parents can ask their child's physician or the local medical
society to refer them to a child and adolescent
psychiatrist. The psychiatrist can diagnose and treat
physical as well as emotional problems that may affect
children as a result of stress. The child and adolescent
psychiatrist can also help parents learn how to make the new
experience easier on the entire family.
To make the move easier on children, parents may take these
- Explain clearly to the children why the move is
- Familiarize the children as much as possible with the new
area with maps, photographs, or the daily newspaper.
- Describe advantages of the new location that the child
might appreciate such as a lake, mountain, or an amusement
- After the move, get involved with the children in
activities of the local church or synagogue, PTA, scouts,
- If a son or daughter is a senior in high school, consider
the possibility of letting him or her stay with a trusted
family until the school year is over.
The more frequently a family moves, the more important is
the need for internal stability. With the proper attention
from parents, and professional help if necessary, moving can
be a positive growth experience for children, leading to
increased self-confidence and interpersonal skills.