This was a recent email we received asking for ideas to help children handle a big move.
But even if you are not moving like this family, it is likely that your child has a transition of some sort on the horizon—new school, new sibling, or summer break, etc. Even a change that is happening in your life—new job, financial stresses, aging relatives–can trigger feelings for your child.
Read on for 5 strategies to help kids and parents manage transitions.
Hi Cecilia and Jason,
I’m a mom of 3 children. We made a big move 1 1/2 years ago and it looks like we will be relocating again soon. How can I best support my children through this change?
We have just begun to settle in this past year so I know it will be a challenging transition. My oldest, who is 7, doesn’t do great with change and he displayed a lot of anger towards me the last time we moved. It lasted quite a while and it was hard to know he was struggling with expressing his emotions. I want to be strong for them, but in reality, it will be difficult for me too. He’s emotional and sensitive, and shy when it comes to new people and situations. But he’s also athletic and involved in sports so I know he will make friends that way.
My twins are 5–a boy and girl who will start kindergarten in the fall. Our boy is more outgoing, also very sensitive. Our daughter on the shy side–it took her almost a year to talk to our close neighbor who is friend of ours. She plays tough but on the inside I know she feels a lot and will act out with tantrums. My daughter and oldest son struggle with anxiety a bit. Please advise how we can help make this as smooth as possible? Thank you!
(not her real name)
This is such an important topic. Thank you for reaching out. Here are a few ideas:
- Give them empathy: You sound like you are already very in tune with their feelings. Keep in mind that your children are going through a form of grief as they let go of their friends and the future that they were expecting to live there. Thinking of your children’s feelings as part of a grieving process may make it easier to understand their feelings, see their emotions as part of a normal process, and support them through the feelings to a place of acceptance or even hope and joy. Here is another blog post about helping a child through grief that has more detail about expressing empathy. Points 1,2,3, and 6 would apply to your situation, even though this past post is about grief over a person, rather than a move. Remember that when it comes to empathy “the connection is the miracle”. That connection—when your kids know that you really “get” them and everyone feels warm and fuzzy inside—can happen even if the problem doesn’t (or can’t) get solved.
- Since your kids have had some experience with moving in the past they have developed some skills and perspective, or even wisdom. During a family meeting or one-on-one time ask them what things worked really well during this last move? What didn’t work well that they want to avoid this time? Your kids can share tips with each other and even make plans to help them feel empowered in this situation. Perhaps your daughter and son come up with individual plans for how they are going to deal with their anxiety. “When I feel x, I know I can do a, b, c, and d, until I feel better and if none of those things work, I can get help from mom, dad, etc.” Maybe your oldest wants to make a plan about making new friends and specifically how sports can help. “When we get to our new house I’m going to sign up to play x and y. I’ll set up play dates once a week with my favorite kids on the team.” Maybe your kids have ideas about how they want the move itself to go, what they want to pack/unpack first and last, what they can do during the journey itself. There could be a plan that they have for how to say good-bye to people or how they are going to stay in touch with people they are leaving behind. Making plans (and writing it down or drawing pictures about it) can help kids to have power in a situation where lots of things might feel out of their control. Be a part of these plans, so that you can make sure that they are realistic, you have time for them, and that they make sense.
- Normalize the experience: Transitions like this can be especially difficult if you think you’re the only one who has gone through it. Find other children in your community who are have also moved. Have your kids talk to them, especially if the other kids have a positive and realistic perspective about moving and are older (because your children can look up to them as role models). If you can’t find other children who have experiences with moving, perhaps there is an adult who they can talk to and share some of their feelings. Take what these role models have told your children and weave these positive, powerful messages into conversations when your children are struggling. “(Empathy) You look so sad now that you’ve said good bye to our neighbors. That makes sense to me. You’ve become such good friends during the time we’ve been here. (Normalize) Remember when we talked to grandma and she told us all the stories about moving 5 times when she was little? What did she do that helped? Do you want to call her and tell her how you feel and see if she has any ideas about what to do?” Even books (fiction or non-fiction) can help kids normalize an experience, so that they know other people have dealt with this problem and they’ve gotten through it.
- Get support for your own feelings: Taking care of yourself is especially important and especially difficult when dealing with all the details of moving. In order for us to be truly “there” for our kids, we’ve got to take care of ourselves. Just as your children are making plans about the move, you can make plans for how to get emotional support, normalize your own experience, and get empathy from other people. Reach out to others; let them know what you might need. Put things in place so that when you get bogged down you don’t have to think about what to do. For more details on how to find peace in a hurricane see this post on when everything falls apart.
- In the Whole Brain Child authors Siegel and Bryson talk about a tool called the “Wheel of Awareness”. Teaching your children to use the “Wheel of Awareness” fits perfectly with giving empathy, talking about feelings, and helping kids return to a calm, centered state of mind. I won’t go into all the details here because I talked about it in this blog post and video about how to help kids with feelings about going to school. When you get stumped about what to say and do with your children the “Wheel of Awareness” is a great tool to empower them.
Cecilia and Jason Hilkey