Helping kids adapt to a family move

Child Life

June 02, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I have a 5-year-old and a baby, and my husband and I are being transferred. I need to know how far in advance to tell my 5-year-old that we are moving and how to make the transition smooth for him.

Cindy Parker Glen Rock, N.J.

"Tell the child as soon as you know, period," says Barbara Flynn of San Antonio, Texas, who as a military wife moved many times with her young family.

"To be kept in the dark for any amount of time gives rise to fears that this is somehow a bad thing. It's dangerous to discount the radar our children have."

Also, children need to hear this news from their parents and not a neighbor or relative, says Thomas Olkowski, author of "Moving With Children" (Gylantic Publishing, $12.95; call [800]-828-0113 or [202] 797-6093 to order).

Several parents who called Child Life worried that telling a child too far ahead of time would cause unnecessary anxiety. But that's not the case.

"A 5-year-old needs to know about two months in advance," says Olkowski, a psychologist in private practice in Denver. "This gives them a chance to work through their feelings. They'll want to talk about it over and over."

The best thing parents can do is be firm, supportive and upbeat about the move, says Frederic J. Medway, a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, who studies the effects of mobility on families. That's what many parents have found.

"I was in the military, and we moved frequently," says Child Life reader Bob Schruefer. "Instead of apologizing that they had to leave their friends and schools, we made it a point to say, 'Oh, boy! We're going to meet new people, make new friends and live in a new place and see the sights.' Our kids always had a great attitude toward the whole thing and were very adaptable."

Though it usually takes young children a couple of months to get used to a move, most of them do adjust, Medway says.

"Several studies have shown that there is little to suggest that moving has any negative long-lasting effects on children," Medway says.

Still, some parents say that it's unrealistic not to expect any sadness and upheaval.

"This just happened to us, and our 5-year-old knew from the beginning," says Shay Copec of Austin, Texas. "He had times of missing his friends. It is stressful, and be prepared for some tears.But it can be dealt with."

After five moves in six years, Tempa Worsham of Converse, Texas, has found that moves are just as stressful for kids as they are for adults.

"Communication and patience are definitely the key," Worsham says. "Try not to be too critical of the child during the transition."

"Remember to give the child extra physical attention and support as they adjust," adds Carol Nulsen, a reader from St. Louis Park, Minn.

Here are some other tips from parents:

Let the child use paints and stickers to decorate a box to pack her favorite toys in, suggests Jeannette of Virginia Beach, Va.

Libraries have many books for children about moving, says Jennifer Singer of Norfolk, Va. One classic is "Mitchell is Moving" by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Simon & Schuster, $14 hard cover, $3.99 paper).

Martha Anderson of Belleville, Ontario, gave her 5-year-old a disposable camera to take pictures to remember old friends, the old house, etc. Another reader suggested putting those 'remembering' pictures into an album.

Before the move, gather photos of the new town from the chamber of commerce and tourist bureau, suggests Pam Silver of St. Louis Park, Minn. Angela Basso of West Haven, Conn., was able to visit the new house and new town and bring home a videotape to show her children.

Make a new-home celebration kit, suggests Debra Krause of Plymouth, Minn. "Buy balloons, streamers, party horns, snacks, etc., to help you celebrate when you arrive at your new home," Krause says.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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