The Moving Scene: Helping kids find friends, fit in and make transitions smoother

by | Jul 25, 2011 | Friendship and Social Competence, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Whether your family is moving into the home next door or across the nation that change can be difficult for one and all. Here are ways to make the transition smoother and more positive

REALITY CHECK: Though moving is a common event that happens to one out of five families each year, research shows that a big parenting mistakes make is not realizing just how upsetting a move can be for kids. It can be traumatic as well as stressful.

“What do you mean we are moving?”

“But this is my home and I like it here!”

“How will I make new friends? Nobody will like me there.”

“Thanks a lot, Mom. You just ruined my life!”

Whether your family is moving into the home next door or across the nation that change can be difficult for one and all. Just the thought of being uprooted and making a such a major change can be unsettling as well as even frightening to a child.  This means far more than just fixing up a new bedroom but also changing schools, making new friends, joining a new team, playgroup, scout troop let alone trying to fit in and find someone to play four-square or sit next to in the cafeteria.

But there are ways to make the transition a more positive experience for everyone there are some positive and reassuring ways to help guide your children through the moving experience. Using those solutions can help make the experience more positive as well as one that even enhancing your child’s confidence and social skills and his ability to handle change. Meanwhile, keep an ancient but wise in mind: “Home is where the heart is.” No matter where or why you move, what makes a house a home is always the love shared inside.

Solutions for a Smoother Transition

Here the two stages of moving (before and after) as well as specific solutions you can do during each phase to help make the adjustment go smoother for your kids and your family.

Part I: BEFORE THE MOVE: Anticipate Concerns

Remain Upbeat and Calm

Keep your concerns to yourself, and remain as positive about this venture as possible. Your kids will pick up on your moods and their outlook will be greatly influenced.

Accentuate Advantages

Explain the benefits to your child so he has a more positive outlook as well as an explanation to give friends: “You’ll be able to play hockey like you always wanted!” “We’ll be living in a bigger house.” “We will be closer to Grandma.”

Give a Timeline

Explain the move step-by-step tailored to your child’s developmental level. Younger kids have shorter attention spans, so don’t offer too many details at once. Older kids want specifics:  Where are we moving? How are we getting there? When are we moving? What does the new house look like? When do I start school? Provide details and make sure they come from you or your parenting partner.

Anticipate Concerns

Be prepared for resistance and some acting out.  Be patient. Answer those questions calmly. The right children’s book can be wonderful in helping your child open up and discuss her concerns.

Research the New Location

Ask the realtor to send photos and floor plans of your new house. The Chamber of Commerce can provide maps of the community and pamphlets of children’s activities. Subscribe to the local newspaper so your family can scope out what’s available. Log onto the school and city website for your kids to check out.

Go online with your kids to check out the new school, soccer club, and even see an aerial view of your house and neighborhood. Your child can view his school curriculum, swim center, park and recreation program, plus web sites for the new area Boys and Girls Club, scouting opportunities, high school football team, and local weather forecasts. All this can help her start to feel more settled about the new location even before the moving date.

Include your Child in the Moving Process

Allowing some choices will help your kid feel more like a participant with control in the process.

What kind of bedspread would you like? Where should we put the swing in the backyard? What color should we paint your room?”

Provide an older child with a floor plan of the house (and especially his bedroom), so he can arrange in his mind how he wants his furniture placed ahead of the move and even give directions to the movers.

Part II: AFTER THE MOVE-Finding Friends & Fitting In

Once you’ve made the move, it’s time to settle in and help your children learn about their new home and surrounds. Here are ways to help your child adapt.

Celebrate New Beginnings

Find a special way or ritual to celebrate your new house and move. Plant a tree as a family as new beginning. Take a photo of all of your family to send to all your old friends. Hold a special celebration dinner just for your family to toast to one another’s health and happiness, or plant a tree as a family in your backyard to represent new growth.

Visit the Surroundings

As soon as convenient let your kids get acquainted. Go to the local library, park, school, Boys and Girls Clubs, Teen center, AYSO soccer club, pool facilities. Take your child for a visit to preview his new school.

Provide Continuity

Stick to your normal family routine especially for those first few days after the move: favorite dinners, TV shows, nighttime stories. It will help your child recognize that though the house is different basic family routines will remain unchanged.

Help Your Kid Blend In

Clothes, haircuts, shoes styles, and accessories really do matter in helping kids gain peer approval and communities do have their own culture. So visit your kid’s school (if possible even before the move) and study the appearance of the kids so child is most likely to associate with.

Does your kid dress like them? If not, help him find the styles so he blends in.

Acknowledge Feelings

If your child doesn’t share her feelings, you can help her recognize how she feels about the move:

You must be feeling lonely and miss your old group.” “I can you’re worried.” It’s tough to join a new team when you don’t any of the kids.”

Let her know such feelings are normal. Even if your kid won’t talk to you—keep talking to her. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable?” “Do the kids wear or have anything different from the kids back home? Do you need anything?” “Would you like me to talk to your teacher?” Be patient and understanding.

Stress to your child that adjustment takes a while.

You might encourage him to write his feelings about the move on paper, put them in a jar and then bury them out back as a time capsule to dig it up to read a year or two from now to realize things really have improved.

Befriend Other Parents

Be a room parent as soon as you can, offer to carpool, sign up to coach, be the team mom, help out with the church group, meet other camper parents, and attend PTA meetings and other school functions. Introduce yourself to the neighbors.  Find out who amongst your work colleagues, if you have them, has children: it’s a way to learn not only about available kid activities, and potential new friends for your children (or find a babysitter!).

Find Outlets for Your Kid that Attract Peers

Look for opportunities for your child to meet kids anywhere or elsewhere—for example, scouting, park and recreation programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, 4-H, Teen Clubs, church groups, sports teams, library programs, after-school programs, or other youth groups. Pediatricians’ offices and libraries often are a good place for picking up schedules of upcoming kid events.

Your goal is to help your kids find ways to meet new kids. Making the friends is her job—helping her find potential new friends is your role.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba or on my daily blog Dr. Borba’s Reality Check.

For more strategies to help boost children’s social competence refer to my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries in the chapters Moving, Bad Friends, Bullied, Bullying, Cliques, Friend Breakups, Peer Pressure, Rejected in my book Nobody Likes Me: Everybody Hates Me – 25 Top Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them.

RESOURCES: One in five families move yearly: The National Network for Children (2003) reports that each year one out of every five American families moves, representing nineteen percent (19%) of the population” W. Steele and C, H. Sheppard, “Moving Can Become Traumatic
,” Trauma and Loss: Research and Interventions, Volume 3, Number 1, 2003.