Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By DR. T. BERRY BRAZELTON and DR. JOSHUA SPARROW
At first, the idea may be exciting. "We'll all go in the car together. You can take your best toys. We'll stop at special places along the way, and you can have a hamburger or a hot dog."
But as the time approaches, the reality of leaving everything that the child is used to -- his house, his room, his neighborhood, his friends, his teacher -- begins to sink in. "When will I ever see my friends again?"
Moving also brings up even more frightening prospects: "If I can lose my house and friends, maybe I can lose you" -- the loss he fears most.
A child may cling more. Every time his parents are out of sight, he may cry, seemingly for no reason. A child who is about to move may be overwhelmed by his parents' busy preoccupations, and his own fear of the unknown. He may feel frightened, and frighten his parents because he seems changed.
Nightmares may occur more frequently. Bed-wetting may recur and diapers may need to be used temporarily. Parents may not understand why a previously imperturbable 4-year-old can suddenly become so dependent.
At age 4 and 5, the losses may be harder to define, but by 6, the loss of a newly won group of friends is a real disappointment. The more a child can put his feelings into words and grieve ahead of time, the easier the process may be in the long run.
Parents can help a child go through a move:
• Prepare -- the farther ahead, the better. Thus a big change becomes expectable, a plan rather than a crisis. Talk about it with the child: "We'll go out there and meet some new friends for you. We already know of a family with children your age in the new neighborhood."
Fill in the unknown with as many details as you can. If possible, visit the new house and the new school ahead of time. Try to find a schoolmate or a neighbor child before you go.
Talk about where the child's bed will go, where you'll eat. Let him meet his new teacher in advance. All the mundane, everyday routines will become even more important. Explain your plans as soon as you know them.
• Share your feelings, and model your ways of handling them. "I hate to leave my friends. I know how sad you are to leave yours. Do they know how much you will miss them?"
Have a goodbye party. Don't be afraid to cry. Let the child see that you are all facing the losses together -- but also that you're looking forward to the new home. "We'll eat supper together on the porch."
• Expect a regression. Help the 5-year-old see that his fragility at school, his return to babyish habits -- even bed-wetting -- are understandable.
• Keep some familiar and important things with you. Don't wait for the moving van to bring a favorite toy, book or beloved stuffed animal.
• Once you're in the new home, immediately decide the important areas for routines, for play and for meeting new friends. Fixing up the child's room, putting his toothbrush in the holder, sitting down for supper together -- all of these things will make the new place feel like home. This is no longer just a strange new geographical location; it's a new home and a revival of familiar routines.
Rituals are even more important than usual. Read the old favorites such as "Good Night Moon" over and over.
• As soon as possible, locate a new friend for your child. Get to know other parents at school drop-off and pickup times. Look for shared activities with them -- coaching, or parent meetings at school.
It takes time and effort to become part of a community. Model new relationships for your child. He needs to learn from you how to start afresh.
• Call the old friends frequently. Tears and whining after a call may seem meant to punish you. But the importance of your child's friendships need to be honored. Look for opportunities to stay connected, and give them up only gradually, if you must.
This is a time of mourning and of regression, but also of discovery and adventure. These can all be shared. Make it fun when you can, but don't minimize your child's feelings of loss, or your own. Moving is a time for a family to draw close, to discover new places and make new friends, to share feelings, and to learn how to cope with stresses -- together.
Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to: