How children adapt to moving
Children adapt to change differently and moving is a major change. How do the various age groups cope with it?
Painting child

Moving. You take your whole life, swathe it in bubble wrap and pack it in carefully labelled boxes. Then you watch the removal company load everything onto the truck and drive away ... away from friends, family and from the numerous elements that have defined who you believe yourself to be.

Preparing your child

Preparing your child for the move and easing the transition for him will impact on how the move affects him psychologically. “Families whose moving circumstances are good, who are close and supportive, and who tackle the move as an exciting adventure or challenge are more likely to emerge psychologically intact – and even with improved emotional resiliency,” says Elbie van Coller, a South African born educational psychologist who moved with her family to Australia. She has found that the impact of moving on a family can be so great that her practice now specialises in “migration adaption”.

That has certainly been the experience of Wendy Smith, who moved with her family from Johannesburg to Kent in England when her daughter, Caity was 9 and her son, Alex was 10. Leaving South Africa was a fraught, emotional time. “Caity sobbed all the way to the airport. Alex sat on top of the luggage on the trolley with his head in his hands and said: ‘This just feels wrong’,” relates Wendy who at the time really didn’t know if they were doing the right thing. She believes that her close relationship with her spouse was one of the factors that helped the family to settle, and that the difficult time her children had has matured them, and strengthened their ability to be empathetic. “My children face challenges with a ‘Can do’ attitude now that they have seen us all get through this hard time together,” she reveals.

Just how hard a time your child has with the move depends on his personality, and age. “A major move is probably most difficult for teenagers or preteens,” contends Erika Theron. She trained as a psychologist and interviewed South African families who had emigrated to the US about the emotional aspects of relocation for her novel, Verblyf. At preteen and teenage stage, friends and fitting in are most important. A move means giving up friendships and worrying about what the kids are like in the new city. Kids may also have to give up on dreams such as being captain of a sport’s team or the lead in a school play.

“Generally younger children will adapt more easily – if the parents are calm and available, younger children will take the new environment in stride,” says Elbie. Younger children have the family as the centre of their lives, so will take their lead from the behaviour of the parents. Their major concerns are more likely to be about being left behind or getting lost.

Janet Stewart believes that the younger kids are when they move, the better it is for them. Her youngest has adapted far more easily than her oldest. Janet moved with her family from Johannesburg to London when her son, William was 4, and her daughter, Rebecca was 6. “Emotionally our kids watched us and got their stimuli from us. We spoke a lot about what we were doing and always explained that we were all going on a big adventure. Rebecca battled socially as she went into a small class where the children already knew each other,” says Janet.

Read Tips to make a move smoother

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