Get a move on
Published: May 16, 2011
Ah, springtime! The sun is shining. Birds are singing. Flowers are blooming and moving trucks are rumbling into military neighborhoods like ours. As you read this, the packers are making their way through our house, wrapping and boxing up our worldly goods for a move over the ocean.
Soon we’ll begin the process of blooming in a new location, transplanted once again by the return of PCS season.
Getting children to bloom and thrive in new soil isn’t as predictable as the return of spring, as any military parent can tell you. Our children are adaptable, but these transitions still require planning, preparation and patience
Susan Miller is the author of “But Mom, I Don’t Want to Move,” a faith-based guide for helping children get through a move, even when they don’t want to.
Having experienced many moves in her own life, Susan said children usually reflect the reactions of their parents when it is time to move.
A positive attitude is important, she said, but parents need better tools than just a happy face. Setting reasonable expectations and emphasizing teamwork are more effective than over-cheerfulness or exaggerations of how great a new home will be.
“For the bumps in the road or for the smooth road, you are in this together,” she said. “Always accentuate the positive and play down the negative, but by the same token, be honest.”
Moving affects the whole family, so Susan emphasized that the whole family should be informed and engaged.
“Like us, children don’t like surprises when it comes to life changing events,” she said. “They want to know why are we moving and where are we going and when will we move. It helps ease that transition if you answer the basic questions and talk about the adjustments.”
She advises keeping kids informed about the timeline and mechanics of a move, giving them as much time as possible to process these changes.
“Set up a white board in the kitchen to keep track of moving dates and tasks for each family member,” is one idea, she said.
Children of any age can be involved in a move with age-appropriate tasks like cleaning out their rooms, returning borrowed items or sorting outgrown clothing and toys to be donated.
When turning your children’s thoughts to a new home, it’s important to let them say good-bye to their old home too.
“We should say good-bye to people who matter and say good-bye to places too,” Susan said. “In a child’s world, remembering the places is important.”
Families can preserve memories by making farewell videos, scrap books, journals or a memory box to keep mementos from favorite locations.
Closure is important, Susan said, so don’t overlook something as simple as a going-away party to allow children to say good-bye to friends.
As children get older, their reactions to relocating may get stronger, so for teenagers and their parents, moving can be especially difficult. Videos, journals and parties are still useful, but communication becomes the essential tool for helping teenagers with transition.
“At a time when they’re trying to become independent, a move throws teenagers back into being dependent on their parents,” Susan said. “Their peers are the most important people in their world. All of that is such a big part of their identity at that age.”
For older children, leaving their friends and knowing they will have to start over is traumatic, as many military parents have experienced. Teens may be fearful, but express that fear in terms of anger or resentment toward their parents.
Susan advises parents to see the situation from the teenager’s point of view and help them to realize that the pain of moving will not last forever.
“They will have bumps in the road,” she warned. “Grades may fluctuate. They will take their frustrations out on you.”
When parents know what to expect from teenagers, then they can be more compassionate and available to listen, she said.
“A lot of times a move forces a teenager into some self-evaluation,” she said. “You can help them realize we all have choices. We can choose to move forward or we can choose to be stuck.”
Which reminds me, I’ve got to get moving.
For more moving resources and tips from Susan, see her website at justmoved.org.