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Necessary moves

A moving survival guide for families relocating in tough times.

By GreatSchools Staff

Yes, the U.S. economy might be improving, but the national unemployment rate is still about 6%, forcing many parents to look for work in cities they might not have considered before. Job opportunities vary widely by region too: while the unemployment rate in North Dakota is below 3%, Alabama remains above 7%.

Uprooting a family can be especially hard on children, since they have to leave behind familiar friends and neighborhoods and adapt to the academic and social setting of a brand-new school. Wondering how to make the process less painful? Whether you're moving across the state or across the country, we've got the tips you need to make a smooth transition.

Timing is everything

Families considering a move face a potentially overwhelming array of choices about timing and logistics. Move right away? Wait until the end of the school year? Commute long distance? Split up the household while the parent with the new job settles in?

When it comes to minimizing kids’ stress, timing is especially important: Experts agree that it's better to move during the summer. Jodi Goldberg, the executive director of GreatSchools Milwaukee, cautions against switching schools mid-year, citing studies that suggest it's much worse for children's education to move during a school year — even if their current school is merely mediocre.

Waiting until summer gives students the opportunity to finish a grade without interruption, say their goodbyes to friends, and start the next school year with a clean slate. And it's usually easier to make friends and adjust to new surroundings when your peers are doing the same thing.

Breaking the news

Once you've decided when to move, you'll need to tell your children, and how you do it will depend on their ages. For younger kids, you may need to explain what it means to relocate — draw pictures, act it out, or just find a way to explain the process in the simplest terms. For tips on getting the conversation started, check out these recommended reads for preschoolers and elementary schoolers. A visit to your new home ahead of the moving day could quell fears and anxiety about the place and even give your family a chance to meet the neighbors.

Older children and teens with more-established social lives might be upset (and understandably so). Parents should be prepared to face complaints, accusations, or guilt trips.

But you don't have to dismiss these emotions outright. One mom, Nancy Masterson, moved several times with her family, ultimately landing in Jacksonville, Fla. Her approach mixed empathy with firmness. "In all of our moves, I felt that acknowledging our children's feelings was important when they didn't want to leave their friends," says Masterson. "At the same time, we treated each move in a very matter-of-fact manner."

Facing hard times, Sonali Morris, now an employee at GreatSchools, moved her family from a small town near Cleveland to Detroit. But she took a direct, upbeat approach in talking about it with her kids.

"We decided not to shelter the kids from anything," Morris says, "so we were always up-front about what was going to happen, how hard it would be, and what it meant for them. They knew they'd be leaving familiar friends and places, but I made sure to emphasize all the positives about where we were headed. I told them they would be able to call, Skype, and write their friends to keep in touch."

Comments from readers

"There are some good tips in here. My family just had to move from our etablished home to my mothers house. From there we are moving to a whole new state away from everything we've known. I know In my heart it will be better there, better opportunities. I have 3 children. My oldest 2 daughters, one in preschool, one in pre-k (the youngest requires special education for a speech and language impairement). My oldest daughter told me that she was sad because she missed her friends and her teachers. She's almost 5, so even the little ones need extra attention too. :-) Thanks for the tips."
"This Does have some good tips in here. My family just had to move from our etablished home to my mothers house. And from there we are moving to a whole new state away from everything we've known. I know In my heart it will be better there, better opportunities. I have 3 children, My oldest 2 daughters, one in preschool one in pre-k (The youngest requires special education for a speech and language impairement.) My oldest daughter told me that she was sad because she missed her friends and her teachers. shes almost 5, so even the little ones need extra attention too. :-) thanks for tips."
"This is an excellent article. My family and I are considering a move from Livonia, Mi. to Grapevine, Tx. We have a 5 yr old and a 7 yr old. They are currently both in Private school, public will be the school of choice once in Texas. Culture shock we be paramount to my family! Thank you so very much for the information!"
"Thank you for this article. It was very affirming to me. My family is making a major change in our life and moving about 1,000 miles away from where we have always called home for a lifetime. my husband and I are focusing on all the positives and allowing our 15 year old som to go through all the emotions he needs to. We are listening to him and allowing him to be angry when he needs to be, but in turn are reinforcing all the positives of the relocation. We are starting to notice that his attitude about the move is improving and he is much more happy then when we first shared with him. Keep up the good work in supporting families in relocating!!!"
"i am facing this as well even though i work, am a single parent and am trying to decide if i should make a move that would involve a tiny space w no laundry area, huge flight of stairs and a very long commute with a 4 yr old son. just trying to afford keeping up with bills. thank you for your insight and wonderful articles. "
"My husband and I just lost our dream home (4 beds 2 baths)and are having to move with our 4 children, 15, 14, 12, and 5. The home we moving to is bigger and more spacious (6 beds 2 baths)but very outdated and in need of serious work. In addition, the yard is much smaller about the size of a school bus while our other home had an acre of landscaped yard for our children to play in. On so many levels I am crushed at the failure, disappointed in myself and even more in my husband. I worry about my children being in the new neighborhood and missing their old friends. Possibly, having to change schools. What will our friends and family think? How will we explain things? This is soooo humiliating. To all who have lost my heart goes out to you I feel your pain. Keep your head up and shoulders straight. This too shall pass."
"This was perfect timing and very helpful. THANK YOU! "
"I spoke to a psychotherapist recently who told me the recent research says that for children who are good students, it is better for them to move before the end of the school year. This way, at their new school, they have an opportunity to make friends before the summer comes. If you wait until school is out, it may be more difficult for the child to make new friends."
"We are relocating this summer and our kids are 12 & 15. They are experiencing a lot of negative emotions about leaving the home they have grown up in, their schools, and their friends. We have listened to their anger, accusations, frustrations, and upset. However, we have told them that we have to be honest with them. We have remained firm with our decision. We have also encouraged them about what awaits them. In addition, we will allow them to visit in the summer for a few weeks. We hope they will adjust with love, time, understanding, and support."
"What a timely article for me! We are planning to move and of our two teenage children, one is excited and the other dreading it. I promised them each a going away party with their friends to have fun saying see ya later. For the one that is really against it I promised reunion trips to come back and spend time to nuture the lasting relationships that she started. I thinking I am handling it okay but it is really good to get some support."
" I am a widowed mom. My job will be cutting back hours, I have a mortgage, tuition and I am scared to death. My family is out of state and I have no ideal what I'm going to do. I will be forced to do a short sale and/or take my ten year old out of school. My family are unabe to assist me financially and I feel like I fell my daughter even though it's out of my control. I try to stay positive around my daughter and try to find time for myself. In closing, my job, home and my daughter's school are in different cities; it's just a mess. "
"Great article. I have avoided expanding my job search in new areas because the fear my teens might be able to cope with the change. This practical approach to potentially moving the family might help my job search. Thanks."
"I am a single mom of two, one adult daughter and a 7 year old daughter. We are facing moving from San Diego CA where I've lived for 19 years to Brooklyn NY where I grew up and my mom is, due to job loss/lack of work. I'm concerned for my 7 year old as she is not accustomed to life in a big city. I admit I have been negative about the move since I don't want to go. But, I'm trying to put a happier spin on it by telling myself and my daughter that we are moving to help grandma and that it would make grandma so happy. It has been hard to hide my fear and worry about this move. I worry about the public schools in the area and if there is a diverse community. My daughter is bi-racial and we will be moving to a predominately Carribean area. She's used to a racially mixed community and friends. I'm afraid that the children in Brooklyn will be mean to her. I'm also worried about the pace of life there and how it will effect her. My daughter has already told me that she do! esn't mind going for a while and then coming back home to California. She also said she will be brave and not scared. But I'm scared for her! Are my fears unreasonable? Is it possible to find a good school there? I also wonder if there is school choice or charter schools? My daughter is doing really well here in SD and is on track to get into the gifted program, I don't even know if NYC public schools have programs for gifted/advanced students. It feels overwhelming just thinking of all the things that have to be done to move. I'm not looking forward to it and I just want it to be done and over with already. "