Challenges come with change of scenery, says Helen O’Callaghan.
A STUDY on the long-term impact of moving home in childhood, published recently in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, has some alarming findings.
Researchers, looking at Danish data, found moving during childhood was linked to increased incidence of mental health issues and antisocial behaviour in later life.
Those who moved home aged 12 to 14 were more likely to be adversely affected.
The findings should be seen in context: The study mainly focused on moving in isolation and didn’t take into account relevant factors like reasons for the move or whether the new neighbourhood was more or less desirable than the previous one.
Val Mullally, parent coach and author of Behave — What To Do When Your Child Won’t, says moving house has an upside.
It can see parents help children develop a healthy mindset and the confidence to cope with change.
“Children can learn the skills of making new friends, of navigating a new environment, of learning to let go of things as they were, and to start again — all aspects of human existence.”
For this to happen, parents must realise relocating — even a short distance — can be huge grief for a child.
The family home isn’t just bricks and glass, says Mullally.
“It’s the heart of a child’s life. Almost all they’ve known from their earliest memory is linked to this place.
"There can also be loss of other connected places — playground, school, local shop — [wherever] the child has experienced fun or community.”
A transition is more than change, she says: change is the thing that happens; transition is emotional ability to embrace that change.
“Helping your child to transition means thinking further than just ‘moving house’ — it’s about recognising the anxiety or grief the child may be experiencing.”
Parents, busy with practical demands, can be distracted and dismissive at house-moving time.
Rather than trying to ‘make things better’ (saying ‘you’ll soon make new friends’), recognise your child needs to let go of the old before embracing the new, says Mullally.
“Let them have space to talk about what they’re sad or anxious to leave behind. Reassurance is a step that follows after expression of the [current] experience.”
Mullally says to bear in mind that anger is a common reaction when trying to cope with change. Kids may act out or become withdrawn.
“When children’s behaviour is most challenging, that’s probably when they most need your support.”
* Prepare for practicalities of the move. Accept friends’/ family’s offers of support.
* Prior to move, take child to visit new home. Chat about each room, especially the one that’ll be your child’s.
* Remember: children are more powerless around moving. Adults can pop back to see former neighbours plus they’ve got experience of moving, whereas children usually don’t.
* Notice if child is unsettled. Reactive behaviour is call for help. Reassure.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved