Handle a Mid-School Year Move
Q: What's worse than moving?
A: Moving in the middle of the school year.
My family did it more than once when I was growing up. I still
remember some of the incidents-being introduced in the front of
the class, having to share a locker until they could find one for
me, breaking into the already-formed social groups, having the wrong
Whatever the reason for the move, moving is stressful.
While you're anticipating the new location and the new job, doing
all the paperwork, showing the house, packing, and handling those
logistics, remember that your children are going through the same
stress only with less cognitive understanding and no sense of control.
If they don't know what it's like to "be the new kid on the
block," they're about to find out.
The NCC says it takes as long as 16 months for both adults and
children to adjust to a move.
Here are some tips for helping make the move easier for your family.
1. Keep structure amidst the confusion and disorder.
Tighten up on meal times, bedtime routines, and other traditions
that give structure and stability to your family life. Stay home
and skip the babysitters for a while. Let some important things
remain stable while the earth moves beneath their feet.
2. Expect regression.
When we're stressed, we retreat to former times to regain stability.
And our kids do too! You can expect a newly potty-trained child
to relapse, little ones creeping into your bed at night, more tears,
maybe picky eating. Loosen up on these things. They'll go away once
things settle down.
3. Acknowledge both negative and positive feelings.
You, too, will be having them. There's this you'll miss, and this
to look forward to. The old town had an amusement park, but this
one has a great children's museum. You'll miss the snow, but now
the beach is an hour away. Ambivalent feelings are typical of any
transition. Help your child look forward to good, new things while
they say good-bye, sadly, to things and people they'll miss. Share
your joy in your beautiful new home, and your frustration in not
knowing where the light switches are, or the ice cream store.
4. Orient to the way your child thinks.
When we moved when my older son was 6, we left him with my aunt
and uncle while we went to look for the new house. A naturally outgoing
child, he was upset until he learned we'd be leaving
the family dog there too. Children look at things differently. In
his mind, he knew we'd come back for the dog. He was calmed. This
is akin to the nursery school teacher who told me to bring a handkerchief
and leave it with my crying younger son. Not, she said, as a wubby,
but "because he knows you'll come back for a personal item."
5. Be concrete and talk about details.
Help the child see what it will mean to them, depending upon developmental
age and temperament. With a preschooler, let him help you pack up
a treasured item in a box, seal it up, move it around in a wagon,
then return it, open it up and take the treasured thing out and
put it back where it came from. This is an experiential lesson that
what we pack up doesn't disappear forever. Children are concerned
about their possessions, just like we are. Also they displace their
general anxiety onto something concrete like that because they have
no other way to express it.
With a toddler, use the doll house and dolls and toy cars to show
what will happen.
Read books about moving. "Mallory's Moving and her Monkey
is Missing" is a good one.
6. Instead of focusing on logistics, focus on people and feelings.
The move will get accomplished. Take time to deal with the emotional
aspects and it will pay off in the long run. It's a lot more important.
This is just one of many transitions your family will go through,
and how you handle it will have repercussions in the future. All
transitions bring ambivalent emotions and fears and fantasies about
the future, which is unknown. You'll grow
through this as a family.
7. Make a trial run if you possibly can.
Go visit the new place with your children. Show them where their
new room will be (let them decorate it if possible). Visit their
school. Meet the neighbors. Point out the "same things"
like the DQ and McDonalds. Look up sports and scouts programs. Show
them where the new movie theater is.
8. Expect an adjustment period at school.
Children learn best in a comfortable emotional environment, and
a move is stressful. It will take them a while to get acclimated.
Observe when you pick them up, or talk with them to find out if
they're making a satisfactory social adjustment. According to research
one of the highest emotional intelligence competencies is being
able to break into an already formed group. Be compassionate. Help
them learn the skills. (You may be going through the same thing
9. If not you, then who?
We've lost track of who brings the homemade cake over - the old
neighbor, or the new one. Don't ask for whom the bell tolls -- let
your children choose a cake, bake it together, and carry it over
to meet the new folks. Or have an open house and invite the other
10. Saying good-bye precedes saying hello.
Let your child have a going away party with their friends, and
then a new party in the new place. We moved a lot when my oldest
son was growing up, though usually in the summer, and fortunately
he had a mid-October birthday. By that time we knew the names and
faces of the other kids in the class and then could have everyone
over for a birthday party and get him well into the loop. Worked
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