Updated: Jan 19, 2022
ByEileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC
Posted on November 8, 2020
Welcome to Q&A Today, a column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times. Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column. Email me at: tas@LensonLifeCoaching.com.
Q: I’m stumped, Eileen, and hope you can help me. My husband and I have worked hard, scrimped and saved over the years, and have now been able to purchase a home in a brand new community which will enable my three sons to each have their own bedroom. But two of the kids have created a rain cloud over this entire move. The six year old gets upset and yells about how angry he is about leaving his friends, which triggers the four year old into saying he refuses to move. Fortunately my nine year old remains quiet when these dramatics take place. I thought the two younger ones would adjust as our move-in date approached, but it seems to be getting worse. I’m pulling my hair out while packing. Any helpful tips? – Rosalind
A: Parenting can be quite challenging at times, and moving is often one of them, as you have discovered. Kids’ perspectives on change are quite different from ours. In searching for a new home we typically seek a place that offers emotional and physical security, good schools, perhaps near family or other supportive resources, and that is appealing to us.
None of these wise considerations register with young children. They’re more likely to view the upcoming move as a threat to the predictability of their routine and access to familiar people – all which makes them feel safe and secure.
Behaviour such as you describe in your children is not uncommon. Children tend to experience strong emotions when they’re trying to cope with a novel situation. They don’t have the skill set to fully understand their feelings about these dramatic changes, much less know how to express or cope with them. They may yell, throw tantrums, act out and cry. Some children respond with physical symptoms like stomach or headaches, whereas others will regress to behaviour reflective of a younger age.
Preparing a child to move away from their happy memories and accept the new home takes some planning. Keeping in mind their developmental level, you can explain to them why you’re moving and what they can expect to happen. As your six year old shares his anxiety about leaving his friends, encourage him to talk about his concerns and help him find words for his feelings. Your four year old may have more difficulty understanding the meaning of a move. Drawing pictures of his new bedroom in his new home and having books read to him about moving can help with his comprehension and acceptance. You can encourage the younger two kids to play with their toys in a game of pretending to move. This will help them get used to the idea and provide you with an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.
As parents, it is often the child that is acting in overtly distressing ways that triggers our concern, but we mustn’t overlook the quiet one who could be internalising his or her emotional feelings. Some children may try to regulate their emotions by repressing them. You can help your older child, who has not expressed his feelings, to address any concerns he may have about being the ‘new kid’ at school. Perhaps you can drive by his new school so he will know what it looks like, or arrange for a brief meeting with a new teacher.
For all three children, you can help them learn how to acknowledge and put names on their feelings, and you can repeatedly assure them that their concerns and feelings are normal.
Not knowing what to expect in the move can create anxious feelings of being out of control. Help your children feel in control of their environment, possibly by encouraging them to select the paint colour for their bedroom walls. Encourage them to pack up some of their favourite items in their bedrooms and clearly mark (or colourfully decorate) those boxes so they are not lost in the sea of moving boxes at the new house.
Help the boys to see the positives that await them. Identify things that will grab their attention in the new neighbourhood. A park that begs for exploration? A library within walking distance?Losing trusted friends is painful, so if you have an opportunity to create relationships in their new neighbourhood by setting up play dates, all the better. Investigate what organised activities exist in the new neighbourhood that are of interest to your children. Signing up prior to your move, if possible, and commuting to the activities prior to the actual move will help with the transition, enabling them to feel like they already know some other children in the community.
Help your kids say good-bye to their friends with a party. Set up some play dates on the calendar for the friends to come over to the new house shortly after you move. This continuity will help your young boys with the transition. If you feel you’ll be distracted by the seemingly endless unpacking on move-in day, close friends or supportive relatives can provide your children with emotional support, making them feel safe and reducing feelings of loneliness and sadness.
They can be charged with ensuring the kids’ bedrooms are a top priority for being organised how the child would like it to look, and helping them feel that they have some control and they belong in the new home.
There will surely be more moments of chaos, and you may not have witnessed their last meltdown. But implementing as many of these suggestions as possible will help your kids navigate these difficult transitions, ease their adjustment to their new surroundings, and help them learn valuable lifelong coping skills. Before long, your three boys will be accepting their new beginnings and soon their smiles will be back as broad as before.
Wishing you well,
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events. She can be reached at
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