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Lives of Doctor Wives: Moving: Helping Children Adjust

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Moving: Helping Children Adjust

Like many medical families, we are preparing to move this June.  Again. This will be our family’s third move in three years!  Moving can be taxing both physically and emotionally on adults, but we've found that it can be just as stressful for children. 

When we found out on match day that we would be moving twice: once for an intern year and once for residency, we were slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of loading up our house, moving to a new state, and then doing it all over again in just a year’s time.  At the time, our kids were just 4 and 2-years-old and I was pregnant with our third.  But we were mostly excited to have matched at our top choices.  The future seemed bright and though packing our house was a daunting task, we were mostly positive.

Our 4-year-old, however, began to exhibit symptoms of anxiety.  She started waking up in the night and even began wetting her pants during the day, things she hadn't done in almost 2 years!  She would constantly clear her throat and said it felt like there was something stuck in her throat.  She would ask us the same questions over and over and cry when we refused to keep repeating our answers. 

Worried about her, I took her to the pediatrician.  He told me this type of anxiety was normal in children when a big change was taking place in their lives, whether it be moving, a divorce, a new baby, a new school, a job change, etc.  He told me that the best thing I could do is love her and be patient with her and that she would get through it.

Here is how I used his advice and found the best ways to help my children cope with moving:
1)      Be positive.  At the end of my husband’s third year of medical school, we had the opportunity to move into a home because the owner could no longer take care of it.  In exchange for caring for the home, we got free rent.  The situation turned out to be less than ideal though, and I complained a lot.  My attitude rubbed off on my daughter who would constantly talk about how much she hated living there too!  I learned from that experience and the next time we moved I tried to keep my complaints to myself.   When I acted as though our big move out of state was an adventure, the kids went along with it and really learned to like our new home.
2)      Be adventurous.  When you first move to a new area you may feel disoriented and homesick.  Force yourself to get up and get out. Get to know the area, try out fun things, explore.  You will be happier and your kids will too.  If you are in a location temporarily this may be your only chance to explore that part of the country!
3)      Find friends.  I tend to be a home body.  When we moved to a new state for my husband’s intern year, I didn't feel highly motivated to make new friends because I knew we’d only be in that city for a year.  And making friends is a lot of work!  But I have a daughter who is extremely social and thrives on friendships with children her own age.  So I had to go outside my comfort zone and make new friends so that my daughter could have friends too.  I also immediately enrolled her in swimming lessons and preschool so that she could have more social experiences. Looking back it made our year in that city much more fulfilling for our entire family because we made some lasting relationships.  Plus, if you don’t have friends who will you call in a time of need?  Like when you go into labor in the middle of the night…
4)      Acknowledge their fears and get to the root of them.  Before moving out of state my daughter had some pretty serious panic attacks.  We just assumed her anxiety was about the move in general since she didn't vocalize what was bothering her.  Then one night when I was putting her to bed, I asked her calmly, “What do you worry about?”  She replied, “That when we move someone else will sleep in my bed.”  And then we understood where her anxiety was coming from and were better able to address it.  We also tried to acknowledge her fears rather than dismiss them.  From that point on I tried to involve her in the process of packing up her own things so she wouldn't worry about them being lost in the move.  I was also careful not to let her see me throwing things away as I “de-junked’ since she was worried about her things.

Parents can make moving a positive experience when they are sensitive to the impact a move will have on their children. Moving can actually be a positive experience, enhancing a child’s emotional and social growth, adaptability and self-confidence. If a move proves to be too much for you or your child, don’t hesitate to seek emotional help. What tips have worked for you in helping your kids adjust to a move?

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