Moving is traumatic – and not just for children. It’s stressful for everyone: adults, adolescents, and even the elderly. In fact, in terms of trauma, moving is one of the most significant life stressors, coming only after death and divorce, according to University Hospitals of Northeastern Ohio.
Like any other trauma, moving can cause mental health and emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. Read our article “Is Moving Traumatic for Adolescents?” to learn about why moving can be so traumatic.
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What You Can Do
If you’re planning a move, or have recently moved, there are things you can do to mitigate the traumatic effects on your family. Here are a few ways parents of adolescents can make a move easier:
1. Prepare in advance.
Start talking about the move well before the event. The more time your teen has to mentally prepare for this big change, the less stressful it will be. When discussing the move, make sure to talk about the positives. Will they have a bigger bedroom? Will they finally get their own room? If the home has a cool new feature, like a swimming pool, make sure to get them excited about it. If possible, visit the new house often so they can visualize the adjustment. Even if you’re downsizing, and you don’t think there are many positive aspects to the new house, try to play up anything – the new location, the neighbors, the street – that can be a silver lining. However, see tip number six, below, for an important note about validating the hardship of moving.
2. Don’t rush.
Don’t rush the packing or the actual move. If possible, try to spread out the move over a couple of days instead of just a few short hours. Meaning, if you can bring over some boxes before the actual move-in date, and then later on have the moving truck bring over the furniture and other heavy items, then do that. Remember to ensure that the furniture arrives well before you and your family plan to sleep in the new house for the first night. You don’t want your teen sleeping on the floor in a strange house for the first night because the moving truck was late. Also, let your teen go back to the old house to do a final sweep and say a last goodbye after everything is taken out. This can help them get the closure they may need.
3. Save their stuff.
This one is important if your teen is especially anxious or sentimental. Try to bring as many of their personal belongings as possible to the new home. While it may be tempting to kill two birds with one stone and use this period of time to get rid of old clothes, bedding, books, and anything you deem old junk, your adolescent might disagree. You don’t want your teen to start over in a new home and be left without their familiar possessions, no matter how ragged or matted they are. Of course, if your teen specifically asks to replace something old, then do it, if possible.
4. Try to keep them in the same school.
If you move out of the city/state, this won’t be possible, of course. But if you move locally, it’s possible. Research shows that one of the hardest parts of moving, for adolescents, is the switch to a different school. Many teens have a difficult time emotionally when they change their home, school, teachers, and friends all in one shot. If there’s any way to avoid this trauma, do it. Even if you have to go out of your way to take them to their old school, it may very well be worth it. And if you do need to switch schools? Try to make the process as smooth as possible by visiting the old school before the move, talking to a teacher or guidance counselor in advance, and helping your teen with the academic adjustment well before the first day of class. For example, hire a tutor to help your teen catch up with the rest of the class if they’re ahead of your teen in the curriculum.
5. Help maintain old friendships.
Another reason moving is so traumatic for teens is that it often means they lose their long-time friends and neighbors. You can make this easier by helping your teen keep those relationships intact. One idea is to have their friends come over the night of the move for some pizza and bonding time. Not only will it help your teen ease into the new place, but it may also comfort them to know that just because they moved, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost their friends too. Make sure your teen gets together with their friends on a regular basis, even if that means driving them back to the old neighborhood often.
6. Validate their struggles.
Even with all these tips, moving will still be hard. You and your family will be exhausted from all the packing, stressed about all the unpacking, overwhelmed by all there is to still do to settle in, and upset about the things that went wrong – because no move is perfect. Make sure that during this stressful time, you validate your teen’s feelings and acknowledge the fact that this is really, really difficult. If your teen seems upset, or cries for a few days during or after the move, empathize with them. Hugs and love win. This is not the time to tell them to get a grip or look at the bright side. Don’t shrug away their concerns or ignore their grief. Support them, whatever they feel. Validate the fact that they miss home and their old neighborhood. And tell them that you’re having a hard time, too. Because you probably are.
7. Get professional help.
Though a period of adjustment is normal when it comes to a hard move, there are times when you may need to seek outside support. If you sense that your teen is not adjusting even after a prolonged period of time, and they seem chronically depressed, angry, anxious, or otherwise emotionally distraught, seek help from a mental health professional. As we said before, moving is traumatic. Early intervention for the treatment of trauma increases the chance of success. This is especially true for teens who have preexisting mental health or behavioral issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other conditions. Teens with a primary mental health diagnosis may need outpatient therapy, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), a partial hospitalization program (PHP), or even a residential treatment center (RTC).
Those are our top seven ideas for making a move easier for your teen. We suggest you read them and come up with a version of them that makes sense for your family and your specific situation – or use them exactly as-is!
You Can Make the Move Easier
The unifying idea behind these suggestions is to empathize with what your teen experiences during this transitional time. If they seem unfazed by the move, check in with them about it anyway. Ask questions about how they feel in general, whether they like their new room, their new school, their new neighborhood – everything. Keep watching them closely for several months, because sometimes emotions stay bottled up. Your teen may express them in unexpected ways, so be ready, be vigilant, and above all, be there for them.