We moved houses last year after having been in our old home for seven years. Between the packing and unpacking, getting used to the environment and settling into the new home, it was quite stressful for all of us.
My two elementary school-age kids seemed to embrace the move well. Yet, there was quite a bit of anxiety and nervousness during their initial days of school as they tried to find new friends instead of the familiar old faces.
Even if it is a local move, starting a new school and adjusting to a different environment can be quite stressful on kids. The issue is only amplified when the move is on an international scale from one country to another.
In a 2010 research piece titled “Residential Mobility, Well-Being, and Mortality" in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," Shigehiro Oshi from University of Virginia and Ulrich Schimmack from University of Toronto Mississauga shared their results from studying the relationship between residential mobility and well-being among 7,108 American adults who they studied over a period of 10 years.
What they found was that those adults who had moved more times when they were kids had lower well-being. This was especially true for introverts, and did not necessarily apply to the extroverts in the sample. The negative effect for introverts was explained by the lack of close social relationships which can be the result of repeated moves.
In another research article released earlier this year, a team of professors from Warwick Medical School studied a sample of 6,448 mothers and children. They found that when children have moved schools three or more times during childhood, there is an increased risk of psychotic-like symptoms during the early adolescent years. This higher risk can be attributed to the increased possibility of bullying and the resultant low self-esteem.
While the research does raise interesting points, it is also important to note that the personality of a child, as well as the reasons for a move, have also been noted to be important factors in how a child responds to a relocation. However, the key point is that there is a certain level of stress associated with a move and we, as parents, can try and mitigate it by recognizing this and helping our kids cope by taking certain steps.
Here are some ideas of how you can make a smoother transition for your child once you are settled in the new place:
Visit the neighborhood playground: You can do this on evenings or during the weekend. You will probably meet kids who go to the local public school, and one or more may end up in your child’s class. If you manage to meet a few kids before school starts, it will help your child recognize a few familiar and friendly faces in the first few days of school.
Talk to your child’s teacher: Exchange emails or go to the school to speak in person and explain your family’s situation. This might be especially helpful if your child is shy or has difficulty making new friends.
Look for local sports teams: If your child likes sports, enroll her in a local sports team like soccer or softball. This is a great way to make friends and for you to meet other parents.
Check out the local Boy/Girl Scout chapter: This will help you child feel included in a supportive group that participates in fun and meaningful activities together. Not to mention that it’s a great way to get to know other children in the area.
Keep in touch with old friends: Let your child keep in touch through Skype and phone conversations with her old friends. When everything is new around them, having the comfort of an old contact can be very welcome.
Reach out to the PTA: As a parent, try to get involved in the PTA and other activities which can help you meet parents of other kids from the same class. I found that in elementary school it’s much easier to set up play dates when the parents know each other.
Moving to a different country presents a specific set of challenges. Try these suggestions to help your children adapt after an international relocation:
Explaining accent differences:If your child speaks English with a different accent, explain that fact to her so that she can be prepared to repeat her words without getting upset when others don’t understand her. Reassure her that her accent is fine, just different from the kids in the new country.
Teach new words and phrases: You can reduce your children’s confusion by teaching them some of the common words and phrases that might be different from those they are used to. For instance, people in the U.S. say “apartment," while people in the U.K. use the word “flat."
Talk about sports: Take some time to help your kids learn about popular American sports that they may not be familiar with so that they can join in discussions at school.
Learn about books and TV together: Similarly, chat with other parents to find out the popular book series or TV shows that kids the same age as yours are reading and watching.
While a big relocation can be stressful on all members of a family, the stress is compounded if kids are unhappy in school and are struggling to find their social footing. Recognizing the obstacles early on and trying to prepare in advance can greatly help smooth the transition for kids.
Shigehiro Oishi & Ulrich Schimmack (2010): Residential Mobility, Well-Being, and Mortality
Swaran P. Singh, Catherine Winsper, Dieter Wolke, Alex Bryson(2014): School Mobility and Prospective Pathways to Psychotic-like Symptoms in Early Adolescence:A Prospective Birth Cohort Study