How to Help Your Teen Adjust When the Family Moves
Moving is always listed as one of life’s top stressors. Giving up the familiar—friends, favorite places, and routines— is not easy for anyone and can cause fear, sadness and stress. While it’s important to acknowledge your teenager’s unhappiness with a move, there are some ways for parents to reduce some of the more traumatic aspects of moving:
Recognize Teachable Moments
Sometimes we can get caught up in the idea of wanting our children to have an easy life. We don’t want to stress them out or have them hate us for “ruining” their lives. But this common anxiety of parenthood ignores an important truth. Life is full of transitions and change.
None of us can always live in our comfort zone, and circumstances will always happen that are beyond our control. Successful adults are those that have coping skills and resiliency, and those two things are learned through experience and watching how others handle life’s changes and disappointments. Our teens must learn to adjust to transitions and what better way is there to teach them but to walk the path beside them as they’re going through it. Moving is a great teachable moment where we can advise our children that they are going to face change for the rest of their lives and how they choose to handle it is entirely up to them. Show them that, although moving is stressful, you can choose to be miserable or be open for new experiences. Role model positive ways of dealing with stress and looking for the positive in difficult circumstances.
Build Family Relationship
Sometimes teens are more likely to open up when they feel the most vulnerable and don’t know which way to turn. Yes, your teen may be acting angry about the move, but generally anger is the surface emotion to cover the real problem, which is that they feel insecure. Despite their emotional reactions to the move, keep reaching out to your teen and communicate in your words and actions that they aren’t alone and you’ll be going through this new adventure together. Plan ways to spend time together and you might find that this move actually makes your relationship stronger.
Ask for Input
Teens almost always respond better to circumstances when they feel like they have been part of the process or decision. No one likes to feel out of control, so by soliciting your teen’s input, you may find them more agreeable to the move. If you’re still looking for a house, ask your teen what they would like in a new home and neighborhood. They can even accompany you on tours of potential homes. If the house is already chosen, there are still opportunities for a teen’s input, such as giving them free rein in decorating their room.
Provide Stability When Possible
While teens are adjusting to new homes, neighborhoods, and schools, we can provide some comfort by keeping some things the same. Sticking to the same daily family routines provides order in the chaos of moving.
Sharing and validating feelings are an important part of helping your teen adjust to a move. Acknowledge your teen’s sadness about leaving behind friends and familiar places. Express sympathy for the changes that may await them. Remember that your teen will face difficulties: they will be a newcomer at school; they have to leave behind extracurricular activities that were important to them; they may be academically ahead or behind their peers at school; they will have to learn different social rules; and they will lose the sense of belonging that they have in your current location. Reassure your teen that you’re sympathetic to their feelings, and offer to brainstorm ways that you could help ease the transition for them.
Let your teen know that moving isn’t easy for you either. You can share your feelings with your teen because honesty helps teens open up. Knowing the move is difficult for every member of the family helps teens avoid becoming self-centered. However, be careful to keep focusing on the positive things in the move because your own anxiety could compound your child’s.
In addition to validating their sadness about the move, it’s equally important to help your teen see the positives aspects of the move. This is an opportunity for your teen to live in and learn about a new city, new cultural traditions, and different ways of life. It also is a chance for teens to remake their own image. Moving frees your teen from former reputations and self-images, and they have the chance to meet new people and make new friends with a fresh start. Also, take the time to explain how your family will benefit from the move, such as living in a larger house or being closer to a fun attraction.
Maintain Contact with the Old Community
If your teen wants to keep old friendships intact, offer suggestions for how they can do that. Ask your teen how they’d like to say goodbye to their friends. Do they want a party or would they rather have a weekend get-together with a few friends? Find out, then help them plan it. If that feels too overwhelming, offer to buy your teen a scrapbook so they can have friends, teachers or coaches write a note and provide e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers so they can stay in touch. If possible, offer to visit the old neighborhood from time to time, and invite some old friends to spend weekends and vacations with you.
Research New Community
Try to spin the move as a new adventure and ask for your teen’s help in exploring it. Ask your teen to research your new city or town and find specific information that will be relevant to your family, such as where the local recreation facility is or when registration is for the local sports, clubs, lessons, or other activities your teen likes.
If at all possible, take your teen on a trip before the move to check out the area. Go try a new restaurant, hang out at the mall, or visit the park. Exploring the area will help the environment become more familiar and after awhile familiarity becomes comfortable.
Visit the New School
One of the most important things you can do when preparing for a move is to take your children to visit their new school. Most schools offer a tour for new families. You could also find out if there’s an upcoming orientation or other event that your teen could attend. At a minimum, have your teen come with you when you register them for school. Before you move, research school clubs and teams that your teen can join. If you’re moving before the school year begins, sign them up for a summer club or team so when they do begin school they will already recognize some friendly faces.
Some teens feel a measure of control when they are making contributions. Make a list of tasks that need to be accomplished for the move – such as packing their room, helping out with younger siblings, creating a travel kit of things to keep them entertained while the household is packed, or organizing a garage sale. Then ask your teen if they would be interested in helping with any of the tasks.
Look for Warning Signs
Sometimes, teens don’t adjust to their new environment easily. While it’s perfectly normal for your teen to have anxiety for a couple of months, pay attention to possible warning signs of poor adjustment. Long-term depression, significant disruptions in sleep, poor socialization, and falling grades may indicate your teen needs professional mental health services.
Adjusting to a move may take some time, but the coping skills that teens learn from this change will help them be more resilient and can be applied to other difficult life events in their future. While not easy, moving does provide practice for handling change and the opportunity to grow closer as a family.