By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. (Ps. 137:1)
The current popular Pixar movie Inside Out gets it right. Moving is hard. It’s hard for everyone, but it can be especially difficult for some children. Children who are more inclined toward introversion than extroversion tend to make a few very close friends, and struggle to mix and mingle with large groups of children. Being the new kid on the block or in the class can be truly terrifying for some children.
If you are in a position to mentor a new child I encourage you to take this role seriously and tune in. The child may well exhibit classic signs of depression, anxiety, anger, resentment, sadness, and resistance. Time does help. But in the meantime, so does the gentle nurturing of a caring adult who can be there in a quiet, support way rather than in an advising, lecturing authoritative way.
I’m sure my daughters have could offer many critiques regarding the ways in which I fell far short of being the model mother in our many moves during their childhoods. Mercifully, they seem to have landed in adulthood more or less in tact anyway. God is gracious.
Here are some tips I picked up along the way from personal experience, and other families that have had to move children.
- Know your child and try to provide something that will meet a core need. For younger children that might mean going in search of another child to invite over so your child has a buddy for morale support when entering the classroom or the club for the first time.
- Or it might mean getting a new library card and letting your child read their way through the first few transition months. I would not recommend letting a child or teen spend hour after hour alone in a room though. People need people, even when they don’t think they do.
- Or it might mean encouraging them to stay in touch with old friends back there while they make new friends in the new place. If feasible, arrange for someone from back home to come for a short visit in the new place.
- Or it might mean getting them involved in an activity that appeals to their special interest. I shall forever be grateful to the high school band director who steered our daughter away from the clarinet she’d played at the previous school. “We don’t need another clarinet player.” He gave her the school oboe to play instead. “Your parents just moved. They won’t be able to afford one.” He arranged for lessons. It worked. Band became a major source of her social life in high school and college. That’s where she met her husband. It’s now a major source of family time as all three of her children have been involved in band along the way.
- Set up the child’s room as quickly as possible with familiar toys, games, collections, and other items. Ask before you change anything though. One day I cleaned up a little message board I unearthed from among the packing boxes and hung it on the door to my middle-school age daughter’s bedroom. Her meltdown when she saw it was not exactly the response I had anticipated. After she calmed down she informed me the message I’d cleaned off had been written by her grandpa, whom she dearly loved. He had since died. She was saving the sample of his handwriting as a memorial to him. Blew that one big time.
- Encourage, but let your child go at his or her own pace. One move took us to a home next to a family with a daughter the same age as ours. I kept urging her to go meet the girl. Finally, to appease me, she reluctantly walked up to their front door, stood there for a moment (without knocking or ringing the bell) and came home to report she wasn’t there. I got it that time. She didn’t want to get to know the girl next door. She soon met another girl a couple of blocks away and they are still in communication today thanks to Facebook.
As the Pixar movie so helpfully points out, sad is a perfectly good and useful emotion. It is normal to be sad when we lose something of great value to us. The friends, familiarity, routines, and comfort of the former home are huge losses to a child. Most likely the child had no say in the decision and doesn’t yet see any benefits to the move. Honor those feelings of sadness for a while. Eventually new feelings of hope, excitement, curiosity, and confidence will begin to displace them.
Guideline # 2 for Relocating:
Give yourself, and especially your children, time to grieve over what was left behind. We tend to rush from one major transition to another in our modern lives. Our hearts can’t keep up with the rate of change. Too many of us suffer from emotional jet lag.