One of the effects of moving on children between the ages of one and fourteen is the interruptions in schedules, routines and relationships. Whenever we make a change – the good, the bad, and the ugly – it causes us to have to deal with and accept a “new normal.” Change takes time and transitions are hard, especially for children.
To assist our children in dealing with the challenges they face when moving, we have to equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to help them grieve their losses and accept and create a new normal. Much like Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels, parents have to do what our kids are doing with equal measures of skill and grace. Managing our emotions, ego and personality is not easy but when we have to do it in front of an “audience” all the while trying to role model positive behaviors, life gets even trickier.
John W. James and Russell Friedman, founders of The Grief Recovery Institute, describe beautifully the challenge of dealing with grief effectively.
“Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain. Trying to heal the heart with the head fails because you’re using the wrong tool, like trying to paint with a hammer.”
When our children lose something or someone, it’s not just a one-time event. Even though the boxes are unpacked and the furniture is set up, the experience of the loss is a process that can be far from linear. Children may seem fine after an adjustment period only to “regress” back into grieving their loss as if it happened yesterday. Grief often happens in spurts, stops and starts.
Some of the losses associated with moving to a new home are obvious: loss of friendships, familiar places, people and patterns, even favorite items that might physically get lost during a move. Some less obvious losses felt by children are the loss of family patterns, loss of skills and abilities, and, occasionally, loss of an entire subject of study. When children move, especially to another state, they can lose learning entire subjects like geography or algebra simply because of the different educational standards and schedules across states.
Different kids express grief differently and in both outward and inward ways. The best way to understand what your child is going through is to ask them questions, to stay open and available to talk about their feelings, and observe behaviors. Most children are still learning how to describe and define their feelings so they may show youhow they are feeling more often than be able to tell you how they are feeling.
You can help your children by developing routines and structure. It may be different than before the move but structure and routine help kids feel a sense of safety and security. Reassure them that there will always be someone to take care of them. Even though you may have been there before, change is difficult and children start to wonder what else (or who else) is going to “go away.”
Make sure to talk about your feelings about the move, your transition, your losses, and your grief process. “Putting on a brave face” and always looking on the bright side are not only confusing messages but they don’t teach your kids how to deal with transition and change – two things that will most definitely be a constant in their lives.
For more information to help your children deal with loss and grief, visit the National Association of School Psychologists website.
No parent should move without a written game plan.
For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.