By Michael Knox
Special to the Independent Tribune
A new move can be an exciting adventure, with a new home and life to explore, but it can also be a major upheaval for family members, especially children and teens. We set out to help find answers from the professionals as to how best assist our children with the moving process.
“Whether it is a single episode or multiple ones, each move does not get any easier, especially for children/teens,” said Carlos Velasco, supervisor for the Wraparound Program in Los Angeles, which is designed to help at-risk children in their homes and avoid placement in institutions or other restrictive settings.
“Leaving a community can be even more challenging if it is due to circumstances that involve death, divorce, loss of family income,” Velasco said. “Parents can be a bit more aware of their own behaviors or on how they are reacting to their own stress, which will cause the child/teen to react in a manner less favorable. Parents will then displace the stress on the behavior and participate in blaming and shaming, i.e. such things as, ‘As if this move wasn’t stressful enough, I also have to deal with you.’”
Velasco said parents need to take a step back and talk to their children/teens and be honest and express their discordance and acknowledge/validate their child/teen as well.
“Together they can work through the stressful event in a more productive manner,” Velasco said. “Parents can allow the child to be angry for their loss of community. Having the child be part of the decision making process can also decrease stress inducing events, such as saying goodbye to their social network”
One thing that can help with saying goodbye to that social network could be social media.
“Socializing is huge. Allowing children/teens to keep in touch with old friends can also help in decreasing their discordance with the move,” Velasco said.
Available social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, can all be tools to help a child/teen with their transition.
“It is about the children/teens’ comfort feel. Transitions bring upon an unfamiliar territory with no friends so children will seek what is familiar,” Velasco said. “Eventually, the new place is no longer new. Now, there are new friends which will require bonding and the unfamiliar have become familiar.”
The move itself can be a major impact on children, just getting used to a new community and the surrounding neighborhoods. But children/teens also have the challenge of adjusting to a new school system.
As a supervisor for the Wraparound Program, Velasco’s experiences have included working with children and adolescents under jurisdiction of the Department of Children & Family Service and the Department of Probation and he’s seen how multiple moves take place and can result in challenging a student’s academic success.
“Upon enrollment in their new school environment, their schedule of classes does not include a ‘best friend’ or guaranteed involvement with a group of peers,” Velasco said. “The child/teen must also adjust to the culture of the new school which can cause more stress, anxiousness or boredom. Peer groups are crucial to children/teens.”
To help find that group of peers for a child or teen, Velasco recommends parents to visit the new community with their children and explore the available resources. New resources can possibly offer advantages that children might appreciate and they can provide family outings or activities.
“If the family has spiritual/religious affiliations, they can also seek a local chapter for added support,” Velasco said. Children/teens can also make the space in the now home theirs by decorating or personalizing it. Parents may want to consider expression of self and creativity, even if it’s not of the parent’s liking or does not match the overall theme.”
Velasco said parents should also use the move as a good chance to take risks and take on challenges that they may not normally have practiced.
“You will always have stories about the things you have done, however, not having stories about those things you could have, should have done, or would have done, will always occupy your mental space,” Velasco said. “Why not just do it, even if the outcome is not the most favorable for you? At least you can say that you tried instead of dwelling that you didn’t. Be a doer and not just a dreamer.”
Talking things out
Those new and shared experiences can also give parents a talking point with their child/teen. Velasco said just talking to a child/teen, to explore that individuality and help build a connection to a community is important.
“Parents can talk to their children about first impressions. They have to be comfortable with themselves in order to acclimate to their new environment,” Velasco said. “Reminding children/teens on ‘how to make friends’ can also add some benefit.”
Velasco said the child/teen will most likely respond with “I know, I know,” but that they don’t really know.
“As a parent you can say 10 things, but even if they only grasp one of them, then you’ve done well,” Velasco said. “At the end of the day, parents can talk to their children and ask about their day. Ask questions that elicit answers with more than just ‘no’ and/or ‘yes.’”
And a parent’s involvement in getting their child used to a move doesn’t just end with talking things over on the homefront.
“Parental involvement at the school is also important because it allows to have the inside scoop and be in the know of all things related to school,” Velasco said. “Developing and maintaining open communication is crucial. Allowing children and teens to express their concerns, worries and fears can help.”
What to look out for
Sometimes though, the move will be more challenging to some children/teens and may take longer for them to adjust. Velasco said that there are some signs that parents can look out for to see how their child/teen is coping.
“Some children/teens may not verbally express their discontent so they will act out or exhibit symptoms of depression,” Velasco said.
Some of those signs of depression can include a change in appetite, social withdrawal, a drop in grades, irritability, or sleep disturbances.
“It is important to be aware that the children/teens are reacting to the stress of the relocation and not the relocation itself,” Velasco said.
If the move has taken place and there has been a reasonable amount of time for adjustment, but they are not coping, parents should not react, but respond, Velasco said.
“Responding means putting in extra effort that addresses the child’s emotional needs. Providing tangible items and promised outings are all wonderful, but when the novelty faces children are often left dealing with internal stimuli that can be hard to contain, especially for a child/teen who already has experienced other changes,” Velasco said.
Those other changes can include physical, cognitive and emotional changes.
“Which at this age is typical because this is the time where identity formation process begins,” Velasco said. “The best way to show added effort is to simply practice. Breaking out of routines is important, even if they are practical. As parents, we make schedules that work for us in the most efficient way possible. However, as a child we are conditioning our children th there is only ‘one’ way to accomplish tasks or to reach destinations. Seeking alternative methods of completing tasks offers opportunities for learning for both children and parents.”
It’s also key for parents to remember to talk “to” their child/teen and not “at” them.
“We parents tend to lecture our children because ‘we know best’ and we often find other children/teens to compare them to,” Velasco said. “Keep in mind it is not about the event itself, but the experience. Therefore, everyone in the household will process and adjust differently. The focal point of understanding the child/teen and know their personality which will provide an understanding on dealing with change. Again, not all children/teens are the same.”
Help if not coping
If a child/teen continues to exhibit high emotional distress after parental support has been exhausted, then seeking professional help would be a service to seek, Velasco said. That could include a pediatrician, therapist and in more severe situations a psychiatrist for temporary relief with cognitive behavior therapy. The program could help focus on building coping skills to better prepare for stress provoking events.
Velasco recommended these websites to help parents with a move:
“Both websites provide information on developmental milestones, events, educational classes and training that will foster a child’s emotional well being,” Velasco said. “If the emotional/behavioral component is at a safe stance than other aspects of the self can be successful.”
Carlos Velasco, supervisor for the Wraparound Program was able to help give advice on how parents should prepare their child/teen mentally for a move, but the move itself can be stressful with everyone packing up and leaving that last day.
To offer some tips on how to keep children occupied on the day of the move, Ross Sapir, founder and president of Roadway Moving in New York, offered these tips:
- Pack like You’re Going on Vacation: Pull together a suitcase full of enough clothing, toys and gadgets for the little ones to keep them occupied throughout the move without switching up their normal routine.
- Recycle Your Boxes: Kids love playing with old boxes. Repurpose for peek-a-boo, play houses, rocket ships, 3-D coloring projects or anything else that will help keep your kids busy.
- Have Enough Food & Water: While the stress of moving might be enough to make you lose your appetite, you child still needs the same snacks and meals as they usually would. Be sure to pack a bag for them with enough snacks, drinks and meals.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help: While kids want to part of everything new and exciting, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to have them stay with a friend or family member the day and night of the move.
- Show Them Their New Room First: Let your child get acquainted with and excited about their new room. By showing them their room in the beginning of the day, it’ll make them feel more comfortable with settling down in a new home.
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