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Moving? Tips to help your child with the transition

When moving to a new neighborhood and school, the key to success is understanding your child's temperament.

By Dr. Ron Taffel, Family Therapist

You are about to take on a double whammy — moving to a new neighborhood and a new school. Many parents dread this double-edged transition, but despite the significant challenges, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that your child has the best chance of doing well.

Understand your child's temperament

The key to success is to accurately understand your child's temperament when it comes to transitions. Children do not act in similar ways to the process of change. And, how your child reacts will depends on his temperament, his personality-style.

For example, if you have a child who goes through change easily, you will have noticed early on that he seems fairly adaptive during the endless transitions of childhood. He moves from classroom to classroom easily, birthday party to birthday party without much of a fuss and between play dates without creating a scene. Chances are this kind of child will require little extra preparation, beyond common sense, before entering a new neighborhood and school. Try not to be alarmed by all the hype regarding the inevitable difficulty of such a double transition. Just use your basic instinct as a parent, and you'll probably sail right through.

On the other hand, if your child has shown difficulty with transitions before, you need to put in a bit of extra effort. The best way to successfully prepare is to keep this word in mind — practice! Practicing ahead of time helps your child become familiar with a new situation without needing to face things head on during those frenetic, first days of school. There are a number of painless ways you can create this process of practicing psychologists call "de-sensitization."

Practicing the transition

1. Practice the route that the school bus or you will take from your house, by driving there together.

Kids feel very reassured seeing the exact trip ahead of time. Do a little homework and talk about the different landmarks along the way. This helps a child know what the other kids already know, the basic geography of the area. Keep in mind that children pay attention to many of the things we adults take for granted — a shopping center with a nice toy store, a cool-colored billboard, a sleek new building, and so on.

2. Get permission from the school to visit the building itself, a few days before your child's first day.

Most schools are open for teacher prep, and most administrators are sympathetic to this request. Walk through the school together, and again, be sure to hit the places that matter most to kids — classroom/homeroom, the cafeteria, the gym, and the outdoor play areas.

3. Help your child practice socializing with the school personnel.

Especially seek out those you've heard (by plugging into the parents' network) are outgoing and friendly. Make these encounters brief. Don't expect much more from harried teachers than a nice hello and a bit of warmth. Also, don't be surprised if your child doesn't have much to say. This is fine — for kids, such a practice visit is about scoping out the adults he or she will have to contend with, so real conversation is not a high priority in a youngster's mind.

4. Practice and model socializing with new families in the neighborhood.

Joining the local religious or community center is an easy, no-stress way to meet other families. Just one potential chum in another family is all your child may need as an entrée to other kids, and a new world. If you can manage, host a simple dinner, dessert, or afternoon get-together at your house in which you're essentially practicing the art of becoming a good neighbor and doing some proactive matchmaking — setting your children up with a few other kids in the comfort of your own home. Kids' relationships can form quickly and are very portable, often moving from the living room into the classroom.

When you face that seemingly impossible transition to a new school and a new neighborhood, remember it's not impossible. Take a temperamental reading of your child, try a few practice moves and you can make a huge difference. No matter how anxious you or your child are, with a little bit of preparation, you're on your way to a smooth transition and, most often, the start of something really good.

Dr. Ron Taffel is a noted child and family therapist, and author of Parenting by Heart, Why Parents Disagree, Nurturing Good Children Now, The Second Family, and a guide for child professionals, Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents. He consults with and lectures at schools and community organizations around the country. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/20/2012:
"Hi.. i have a 9 year old daughter, i moved to LA to pursue acting in 2010, i left her for two years with my sister who has a husband and 3 children, back in Alaska, my home town... i always visited and am very involved in her life, but i know that living with my sister was more stable. now it is time to move her to LA with me and i am torn at the idea that i am doing the wrong thing... she is happy and excited at first, then sometimes she cries and says shes not sure if she wants to leave... she wants me to be in alaska, but i feel like i will not be able to do anything besides work at jcpennys again... but as a parent the right thing to do would be to move her back to alaska and live with her there like before.. regular life, regular routine and stability... im only 25.. i feel like if i go back, ill be stuck til im old... thats what alaska does to you... you get comfortable and you do nothing else.... i really want to act and be in LA but am i being selfish??? i get her t! o LA on the 19th of July... helpppp "
06/19/2012:
"I think it's a good way for my children. If we want to move and to settle down somewhere, maybe children's stress is higher than adults. So, in advance, to give a chance to look over school, street, and neighborhood is very important thing. "
06/19/2012:
"I think it's a good way for my children. If we want to move and to settle down somewhere, maybe children's stress is higher than adults. So, in advance, to give a chance to look over school, street, and neighborhood is very important thing. "
01/23/2012:
"1.Criss-cross tape- Tape boxes along the seams where the flaps meet together. Then tape perpendicularly at the center of the first tape, forming a cross. 2.Stacking- Stack boxes with the heaviest on the bottom, lightest on top to prevent crushing. 3.The 30-pound rule- Keep each box below 50 pounds absolute maximum and below 30 pounds wherever possible. Heavier boxes lead to injuries, are much more likely to burst their tape or seams and tend to get dropped. 4.Scale- Keep a bathroom scale in the room you’re packing so you can keep the boxes below the weight limits. "
04/22/2010:
"Great article! It is very helpful for smooth transitions between schools & cities. I currently live in Orlando & will be moving & changing schools soon with my kids. Just a note to Luca Centoni & some other posters that are moving to Orlando...the area you are considering is an excellent area with excellent schools, communities, families, etc. It is the Hunters Creek area of Orlando. The school you are interested in is West Creek Elementary, I live in this area & have family that attends there & everybody has great reviews of that school. There are many activities for the kids in this community & they have baseball & football teams to join. Good idea to rent a house here. So, good choice & I hope your move goes good. Daisy from Orlando"
03/29/2010:
"hi am a single parent with a 7yr and 5yr old this is my first time relocating to another city or state, currently we live in miami but with no jobs out here i have decided that is best to either relocate to orlando or move to new york. can somebody please give me some advice on this big problem since i dont want my kids to hate me for this big change. thanks "
03/22/2010:
"We live in a rapidly growing area in the country side. Whenever a new school is built, my kids have to move to it. My oldest son attended 4 different elementary schools and two middle schools. These changes can be stressful for the kids, but it helps to keep in touch with old friends and go to the same church. One tip I heard was not to buy the school clothes until the school has already started. Then your kids see what everyone else wears and you can buy them clothes that help them fit in."
03/16/2010:
"I can say that when we moved from Chile to the US in 2006, we were very scared because the kids didn't speak any English and our oldest daughter at that time was 6 and 2 days after arriving in the States she started classes without speaking any English whatsoever. But the school in Clayton, MO (Meramec Elementary) was very supportive, they had English as a second language so they took her several times a week and taught english, although I think what was more important were her new friends and I can tell you that after a few weeks she was speaking in English and after 3 months she spoke without any accent. The 2 younger started a bit later but was the same thing and now, 4 years later and soon to be back to Chile, the 3 of them speak mostly in English, play in English and read in English. We as parents never stopped to speak to them in spanish so they speak both languages very fluently. We live in Minneapolis, MN and the public schools here also have ELS program so my guess ! is that lots of public school have, specially in areas with lots of immigrants like us. So in summary I'd say that the system is very friendly in that regard and most of the english will be learned from the other kids but the school system is very supportive in that regard. You don't even need to to contact the school ahead, just show up once you arrive into the area. Be careful though were you choose to live, not all school districts are good. Do your homework too."
02/18/2010:
"My daughter's Catholic school is closing this year. This article was very helpful in helping me prepare her for the transition to a new school. Thanks!!"
02/17/2010:
"I found your article very positive! I am an Italian father who intends move from Italy to Orlando,FL.within 2011 or 2012. My male son is actually in a catholic private elementary school (3rd year) in Tuscany. I think he should finish his 5th year (the last one) in his actual school but I am not sure about it. Maybe is better move to U.S.A. schools before? Anyway he has been about 1 month every year in U.S.A. traveling in 43 states since he was born (now he is almost 9 years old). Before to move there I think he needs to learn and improve his english staying in Orlando during summer period (4-5 weeks) going to a local summer school to study english language. This summer school could be the same or linked to the one where he will eventually be accepted as future student. I selected Orlando's 'West Creek' school as it is top rated and in a nice city's area community. But I really need some good indications to pre-explore his future school world. Meanwhile we already know Orland! o and it's sourrounding areas. I think to rent a house there for 2010 summer period, just to let him try the experience (last time was in Hotel) of the real local life, such as: going to school to learn english, share classroom with american children, share a dinner prepared at home with his father, playing baseball there (in Italy is a baseball player) look around for the future. I will appreciate if you can give me some landmarks for a summer school and also a candidate school for his future student life in Orlando. Best regards, Thank You, Luca Centoni "
11/17/2009:
"How about foreign kids in public schools? We are a brazilian family who will be moving to Gibbstown/NJ somewhere next month for a 2 year period. We have a 9 years old daughter. What additional support can we expect at a public school, as my kid do not understand englisch yet? It must be hard for my kid in the first weeks/months, so some extra attention from the teachers would be welcome. Any tips how we can facilitate their integration in a regular american public school?"
08/18/2009:
"We are a family from Norway moving to the US, and Wellesley Massachusetts in December. We have 2 boys, born im 2002 and 2005. How do I proseed to enrolled them in a public school? The school system in Norway is quit different from the US. What grade will they be inn? Can we expect any additional support at a public school, as the kids (espessially the little one) speaks pourly english. We are pretty sure about the school district and have 2 schools in mind. Greatfull for an answer."
07/31/2008:
"This is an awesome site. I have a question though, I live in Canada and may be eventually moving to Hawaii. Would it be best to move there early in the school year? I'm asking cause my son will be 5 and starting Kindergarten and if we do end up moving there I would like him to go to a really good school. Is there anything that I would have to do because he is canadian to be allowed to go to school or does it matter? Any info on this would be greatful."
07/3/2008:
"'How about foreign kids in public schools? We are a brazilian family who will be moving to luisville/KY somewhere next monthfor a 2 year period. We have a 7 years old boy. What additional support can we expect at a public school, as my kid do not understand englisch yet? It must be hard for my kid in the first weeks/months, so some extra attention from the teachers would be welcome. Any tips how we can facilitate their integration in a regular american public school? "
04/9/2007:
"Thanks for the advice including that from the comments we are planning to relocate from Africa to the USA and my 11 year old is real apprehensive the comment dated 01.04.2006 fom the arab american family raelly brings to light how difficult it is for the children .Please how did they fair? Isthere any advice you can offer?Iam really concerned about the socialisation and academics although my child is in a gifted school here. Once again thank you."
10/23/2006:
"this article was truly helpful I was lucky to come across it. I live in New York and I plan on relocating to florida,my two oldest children are having a great deal of difficuly excepting the move and the changes. Your suggestions were truly helpful thank you I plan on utilizing them to make the transisition easier on my children"
04/24/2006:
"This tips sound great, and we will be putting them to use, next school year. I'm sure it's no difference when we start a new position in a job, trying to feel comforable."
01/4/2006:
"Articles like this are wonderful! I thank you for the advice. I have 4 children and custody of my little brother and sister. Their ages range from 6-15 years old. My 4 children are U.S. born Arab-Americans. Two of the older boys have had a really hard time with racism in school and simply going to the local park or store. Their dark skin and dark hair tends to draw the wrong kind of attention. We are considering relocating to Jupiter, Florida. I lived in Pompano Beach and loved it but, I don't know enough about the schools to move my family there. I have done a lot of research on Jupiter. I just hope we are making the right decision. I am terrified that the children are going to end up hating this drastic change. Some of them already hate the idea. They have been moved around a lot in their lives. I just want to find a place we can all feel at home. If anyone has any advice at all for us please feel free to respond. I need all of the help I can get. I also need legal advice! on moving from a state in which you have full temporary custody of children from that state. Does the mother have to follow or is it simply not permitted? Please help!"
12/5/2005:
"Thanks for the article. I think it makes sense! Personally, my son seems to adapt quite easily to certain changes. He will be having a major change in his life. 1) I am a single mother, getting married to an American citizen (I am from Malta, Europe). So he will have a father to look up to. 2) He is moving to a new country. So thats going to be hard for him. And 3) of course he has to change his school, make new friends etc. So I am sure that its not going to be 100% easy for him. He presently goes to a Catholic school here and I am finding it hard to choose a school for him in the Champaign area. But thanks for the advice. I will keep looking!! "
11/21/2005:
"I'm a high school senior from New Orleans. I left my first school due to Katrina and I now go to school in Miami but my mother has me moving again, now to North Carolina for my third school. Looks like my senior year is going to be chopped up. Even though my mother jokes that I'll be having three class rings now I don't find this situation funny. This will be my 6th or 7th school and honestly, this 'routine' as my mother calls it is getting old. And I've noticed that I'm always leaving during Christmas. Honestly, for any parents who are reading this, talk thoroughly with your children. Ask them to be honest. Don't give the idea that they have no choice. I've had to deal with that 5 or 6 times in the last 7 years and everytime I give in to the idea because I feel like I don't have a choice. Ask your children to be honest. Ask them how they really feel. None of that 'whatever you want' stuff. That just means that us kids feel like we have no say in the matter. Even though we t! alk about it we still feel like it's out of our hands. Discuss it, talk about it, don't just drop the bomb and make a decision for all of us without consulting us first. That's something we will never forgive you for. Keep an open mind, and this advice is for both the parents and the children. Here what each of you have to say. That's all I can tell you. "
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