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Pastiche Family Portal HomeHow to Handle a Mid-School Year Move

by Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach

Q: What's worse than moving?

A: Moving in the middle of the school year.

My family did it more than once when I was growing up.

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Features: Learning : Moving During The School Year

MOving to a new home with child


I still remember some of the incidents-being introduced in the front of the class, having to share a locker until they could find one for me, breaking into the already-formed social groups, having the wrong "accent."

Whatever the reason for the move, moving is stressful.

While you're anticipating the new location and the new job, doing all the paperwork, showing the house, packing, and handling those logistics, remember that your children are going through the same stress only with less cognitive understanding and no sense of control. If they don't know what it's like to "be the new kid on the block," they're about to find out.

The NCC says it takes as long as 16 months for both adults and children to adjust to a move.

Here are some tips for helping make the move easier for your family.

1. Keep structure amidst the confusion and disorder.

Tighten up on meal times, bedtime routines, and other traditions that give structure and stability to your family life. Stay home and skip the babysitters for a while. Let some important things remain stable while the earth moves beneath their feet.

2. Expect regression.

When we're stressed, we retreat to former times to regain stability. And our kids do too! You can expect a newly potty-trained child to relapse, little ones creeping into your bed at night, more tears, maybe picky eating. Loosen up on these things. They'll go away once things settle down.

3. Acknowledge both negative and positive feelings.

You, too, will be having them. There's this you'll miss, and this to look forward to. The old town had an amusement park, but this one has a great children's museum. You'll miss the snow, but now the beach is an hour away. Ambivalent feelings are typical of any transition. Help your child look forward to good, new things while they say good-bye, sadly, to things and people they'll miss.

Share your joy in your beautiful new home, and your frustration in not knowing where the light switches are, or the ice cream store.

4. Orient to the way your child thinks.

When we moved when my older son was 6, we left him with my aunt and uncle while we went to look for the new house. A naturally outgoing child, he was upset until he learned we'd be leaving the family dog there too. Children look at things differently. In his mind, he knew we'd come back for the dog. He was calmed.

This is akin to the nursery school teacher who told me to bring a handkerchief and leave it with my crying younger son. Not, she said, as a wubby, but "because he knows you'll come back for a personal item."

5. Be concrete and talk about details.

Help the child see what it will mean to them, depending upon developmental age and temperament. With a preschooler, let him help you pack up a treasured item in a box, seal it up, move it around in a wagon, then return it, open it up and take the treasured thing out and put it back where it came from.

This is an experiential lesson that what we pack up doesn't disappear forever. Children are concerned about their possessions, just like we are. Also they displace their general anxiety onto something concrete like that because they have no other way to express it.

With a toddler, use the doll house and dolls and toy cars to show what will happen. Read books about moving. Mallory On The Move is a good one.

6. Instead of focusing on logistics, focus on people and feelings.

The move will get accomplished. Take time to deal with the
emotional aspects and it will pay off in the long run. It's a lot more important. This is just one of many transitions your family will go through, and how you handle it will have repercussions in the future. All transitions bring ambivalent emotions and fears and fantasies about the future, which is unknown. You'll grow through this as a family.

7. Make a trial run if you possibly can.

Go visit the new place with your children. Show them wheretheir new room will be (let them decorate it if possible). Visit their school. Meet the neighbors. Point out the "same things" like the DQ and McDonalds. Look up sports and scouts programs. Show them where the new movie theater is.

8. Expect an adjustment period at school.

Children learn best in a comfortable emotional environment, and a move is stressful. It will take them a while to get acclimated. Observe when you pick them up, or talk with them to find out if they're making a satisfactory social adjustment. According to research one of the highest emotional intelligence competencies is being able to break into an already formed group. Be compassionate. Help them learn the skills. (You may be going through the same thing yourself!)

9. If not you, then who?

We've lost track of who brings the homemade cake over - the old neighbor, or the new one. Don't ask for whom the bell tolls -- let your children choose a cake, bake it together, and carry it over to meet the new folks. Or have an open house and invite the other families over.

10. Saying good-bye precedes saying hello.

Let your child have a going away party with their friends, and then a new party in the new place. We moved a lot when my oldest son was growing up, though usually in the summer, and fortunately he had a mid-October birthday.

By that time we knew the names and faces of the other kids in the class and then could have everyone over for a birthday party and get him well into the loop. Worked great.

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