10 tips to help anxious children cope with a move

Moving to a new home can be a very positive experience, but for children with anxiety or ADHD, it can be very stressful. Here are some tips to make the transition easier. 

Adapt to the age of the child

Very young children don’t understand the concept of moving, but they can perceive your emotions. Try to have a positive attitude when discussing the move in front of them. Reading a storybook that deals with moving may also help them understand the coming changes.

Have empathy

It’s important to listen to your child. In anxious children, stress can manifest through more aggressive behaviours or mood swings, or through physical symptoms such as stomach cramps or headaches. Younger children may regress, for example by starting to wet the bed again after being dry for some time. 

Don’t minimize these manifestations by rationalising them as you would with an adult (e.g. “You have to understand that we don’t have a choice; we have to move because of my new job”). Instead, show that you understand their feelings and that they’re normal, for example by sharing how you felt during a move or other big change (e.g. new school) when you were young. 

If the move appears to be a cause of anxiety, avoid discussing it at length, while addressing any questions or concerns that your child might bring up.

Help your child visualise the upcoming changes

When the situation permits, it is helpful to bring children to see their new home and to take a walk in the new neighbourhood. If there is also a change of school or daycare, visiting the new location and meeting with the staff can also be helpful. 

Otherwise, you can show photos of the new house, neighbourhood, school or daycare. You can even use Google Maps to take a virtual tour of the new neighbourhood.

Focus on the positive aspects of the move

Any move has its positive aspects – being able to decorate the room to our liking, finally getting our own room, being able to join new activities, having a park right next to the house… By getting children to focus on these positive elements, it may help reduce the attention being placed on anxiety-causing aspects.

Get kids involved

Getting children involved in preparing for a move can reduce their anxiety level because it gives them some control over the situation. Depending on their age and development, for example, they could help pack their personal belongings or identify their boxes by putting their name (or stickers) on the box, and help unpack them at the new home. This will help them feel useful, while also help them gradually acclimatise to their new environment. 

Keep things as stable as possible

Try to maintain the home routine as stable as possible in the weeks leading up to the move. Once at the new location, re-establish the usual routine as soon as possible. Experts recommend keeping the same rules as before (screen time, family meals, etc.). 

Don’t add any unnecessary changes. For example, wait for children to be well adapted to their new environment before you change their bedroom furniture. 

Make sure that your children’s favourite objects (e.g. teddy bear, book or toy) stay with them throughout the move. Prepare a bag that they can carry with them during the travel time. 

Once at your destination, unpack your child’s room first

Make sure that an anxious child’s furniture and boxes of effects are put into the moving truck last, so that they can be unpacked first when you arrive. That way, you can quickly create a safe and familiar environment where your child can take refuge during the initial chaos. 

Promptly make necessary arrangements for special needs

If your child has special needs or a case management plan at school, it’s important to meet with the school staff to ensure that specialized care is put in place, if required, to ensure continuity for the child. Do this as soon as possible, because services and wait times can vary from one area to another.

Stay in touch with friends and loved ones…

Today’s technology makes it easy to stay in touch, no matter the distance. Being able to chat with their friends can help children adapt to a new environment. 

… while encouraging contact with the new community

A good way for children to integrate into a new environment is to register for leisure activities or sports, or take part in local activities such as neighbourhood parties. If your child seems worried about “replacing” previous friends, explain that having new friends does not take away from other friendships. 

Conclusion

Moving can be a source of stress for anyone, but it can be particularly overwhelming for children with anxiety or ADHD. Proper planning, an attentive ear and a lot of empathy can help children manage their anxiety levels and cope better with the change. 

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