People move for many reasons -- sometimes out of choice and sometimes out of necessity. Whatever the reason, moving to a new home can be an exciting but often difficult event for a child.
What follows is stage-by-stage advice from the experts for helping your child manage a move.
Moving can be stressful for even for the youngest child. "They are often just beginning to learn how to separate from their parents and can feel anxious about going to preschool, not to mention about moving," says Hilary Vidair, an assistant professor in the clinical psychology doctoral program at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville.
She cautions that a move can affect a child's eating and sleeping patterns and even how talkative they are, and that parents should explain the process of moving through play. "Act it out by using toy trucks and stuffed animals to pretend that you're moving furniture. But also have your child really help by packing his books and toys, and praise him: 'You did a good job packing the Legos' will go far in getting him to help more and feel involved," says Vidair.
It's also advised to leave as much of your child's "stuff" as possible accessible until you're ready to move and to use an old favorite toy, or a new one, to hold on to during the actual moving process. And don't forget to read books about moving. Children identify with characters in stories, and feel relieved that they are not the only ones facing these kinds of circumstances, Vidair explains.
She also advises sticking to routines and to avoid making other changes at the same time as the move -- toilet training, a transfer to a big bed or giving up a pacifier. And, if possible, keep furniture and toys in relatively the same position in your new place.
For elementary-school-age children, it's important to be honest and break the news early on, advises Phyllis Ohr, associate professor and director of Hofstra University's Child and Parent Psychological Services Clinic at the Saltzman Center. "Don't be secretive because your kids will pick up on your hushed tones and bits and pieces of telephone conversations. And kids have a natural tendency to think that something worse is going on," she says. Help your child deal with his or her emotions by drawing pictures, marking the days on a calendar until the move and helping to pack.
"Many parents feel they've wronged their child and pulled the rug from under them by moving and mistakenly let up on typical limits such as bedtime, chores, homework and TV time, thinking it will make them feel happy. This is not the time to let limits go," advises Ohr.
At the same time, Ohr advises tuning in to how your child is feeling and normalize it: "I see how scared you are. . . . That's OK. Moving is not easy."
Join a house of worship or community center and help your child find a niche -- sports, dance, karate. Show your child that the things he's enjoyed can continue in the new neighborhood. "If you have a child who struggles socially, you'll have to remind him more often of his strengths and successes to help him adjust," Ohr says.
11 AND UP
"For middle and high schoolers, this can be a particularly difficult transition. One of the better solutions for this sudden instability is often the stability of school life," says Laura Lustbader, supervisor for youth programs for Nassau BOCES, in Garden City.
So, make sure to give kids notice. "They don't always see it coming and need time to tell their friends and exchange cell phone numbers and e-mails," says Lustbader. If possible, let your child know you'll help him to see his friends.
Ask about a peer mentor program. Many schools have programs that train students to help newcomers. "A peer mentor would be assigned and responsible for showing your child around -- the library, lunchroom, school nurse, and bathroom. They'd act as their point person, and sit with them at lunch to get over the initial hurdle," says Lustbader.
Also check to see if the school has an adult mentoring program. Some schools can assign a teacher or an aide to a new child to speak in small groups or one on one. "A significant caring adult can be instrumental in a successful academic and social transition," she says.
Talk with the principal and guidance counselor and ask them how they bring new students into the fold. Request that your child's homeroom teacher and other teachers go out of their way to introduce your child to his new classmates.
WHAT TO READ
"The Berenstain Bears' Moving Day"
(Random House Children's Books, $3.99): Brother Bear worries about moving to the family's new tree.
(Usborne Books, $4.99): This is part of a series of books to help children deal with new experiences.
"The Moving Book: A Kids' Survival Guide"
(First Books, $22.95): This book not only provides advice but becomes a scrapbook for a child to preserve memories of the move. There are postcards to notify old friends of a child's new address.-- Gigi Berman Aharoni