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MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 2007
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Despite moving chaos, take time to talk to children

By Jennifer Forker
For The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — My husband and I had just ripped the ’70s-style fluorescent lighting out of our kitchen ceiling, after debating this project for nearly two years, when the call came: Jim’s company needed him to move to Denver.

With the kitchen a mess, our lives were upended once again. Now, just in time to start a new school year, we’ll move a seventh time in 14 years. We’re not going alone: We’re dragging along our two daughters, Hope, age 9, and Grace, age 8. Also, a dog and a cat.

But no fish. Thank God, no fish.

This’ll be the girls’ fourth move, and Denver the fifth city they’ll call home. Jim’s job with The Associated Press has turned us into journalism gypsies.

Moving is traumatic. But here’s a bit of good news: There are experts out there who can dispense advice on how to ease the pain. And sometimes a move can bring a family closer together.

Exhibit A: Hot off the presses is a book, “Moving with Kids,” (Harvard Common Press) by Lori Collins Burgan, a social worker in Tampa, Fla. Her record beats mine. She moved 5 times in 7 years with her husband, Randy, and three children. They’ve been in Tampa for five years — an eternity for this family.

Talk with a pediatrician or a therapist, and many will echo what Burgan writes in her book: Listen to your children, encourage them to share their feelings, help them overcome any fears of the unknown, and make the move exciting and adventurous.

Children will react differently depending on their ages, with younger kids being more excited about moving and teenagers having more trouble, says Army Col. (Ret.) Douglas Waldrep, M.D., the medical director at Yahweh Children’s Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C. A child and adolescent psychiatrist, he moved his two now-grown daughters five times while serving in the Army.

He advises telling children about the move as soon as possible, a sentiment echoed by Burgan.

“I’ve learned that it is important to have enough respect for your children and their feelings to make sure they learn about an upcoming move from you and your spouse in a private family setting,” she wrote.

Andrew Garner, a pediatrician in Westlake, Ohio, says children up to the age of about 5 will adapt to the move, but they may show signs of stress by being clingy, needing extra attention and whining. Younger children have concrete worries about where they’ll sleep and where their toys are living (and if the toys will ever return).

As early and as often as possible, conduct family conversations about the move, according to Karl Rosston, a social worker who works with children in crisis in Helena, Mont. Expect children to share sadness and anger. Give them support.

“The big thing is to validate their experience and don’t shut down their anger or sadness about leaving, because transitions and change are very difficult for kids and adolescents,” he said. “You have to hear them out.”

Tips for moving with children

Some practical tips from Lori Collins Burgan’s book, “Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home” (Harvard Common Press):

  • Research the schools in your new community online. Many states have a Web site with “report cards” for every school in the state. Research a particular school by reviewing its Web site.

  • “Where you live determines how you live,” Burgan writes. Strike up conversations with local people during your house-hunting trip and ask about neighborhoods, activities and events.

  • Put a gold star on one of the packing boxes — and perhaps a wrapped, inexpensive toy for each child inside of it. Challenge your children to find “the special box” in the new home.

  • When your children get bored or lonely, stop what you are doing and pay attention to them. Take time to talk, play, walk or cry.

    The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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