Change of any kind in our children’s world causes stress. Moving is one of the top stressors in any family so it’s no wonder that our kids will experience some level of worry and anxiety before, during and after the move to a new home.
Anxiety is normal and, typically, not dangerous to our bodies. Anxiety is a natural reaction to any potential threat, whether it is large and life-threatening or whether it is smaller, like an upcoming exam. Our bodies are naturally equipped with a fight, flight, or freeze response that enables us to prepare a reaction in a potentially threatening situation. The good news is that we typically learn adaptive behaviors when we experience normal anxiety. It’s when anxiety becomes distress that it becomes dangerous.
We all experience anxiety in three ways: physically, mentally and behaviorally. Physically refers to how and what our bodies feel. It can be anything from nervousness to stomach aches or headaches. Mentally refers to our thoughts and can be anything from “what if I trip and fall in front of everyone” to “what if my dad dies today.” Behaviorally refers to what happens on the outside – our actions. These can range from seeking physical contact like a hug or pretending to be sick to avoid a stressful situation.
It’s not a matter of “if” your child, regardless of age, will experience anxiety when moving, it’s “when.” Keep a few things in mind when you start to see signs of anxiety in your kids:
1. Kids will worry.
2. Kids will avoid the things that make them anxious.
3. Kids will seek out reassurance, sometimes over and over and over.
4. Kids will engage in inappropriate safety behavior like being over cautious.
You can help your anxious child/children by encouraging them to express their worries and anxiety. Keep in mind that younger kids, and even older kids, may not be able to recognize that their thoughts and feelings are the result of anxiety. Make sure to encourage good sleep habits and schedule relaxing activities. Encourage and reward them for brave behavior. Try not to tell them to “be brave.” They may have no concept of what that means to them as well as the media’s version of “bravery” may not be exactly what you want them to emulate. Instead talk specifically about how they can overcome their fears, like certain behaviors they can practice or calming thoughts. Encourage them to ask for support from trusted people. Finally, stay calm and remember that experiencing anxiety helps them develop important adaptive skills that they will need now as well as later in life.
Click Here to read more about talking to your kids about anxiety.
No parent should move without a written game plan.
For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.