Teenagers may shout things like, “You’re ruining my life!” when they learn that your family is moving to a new home. Although moving doesn’t ruin lives, it can be challenging, especially for adolescents. A move can lead to fewer quality friendships and more significant depression and suicidality. However, these changes may be preventable.
Moving from one home to another can be hard, but family support can help ease the difficulty. Here are three ways to help your adolescent children adjust better to the moving experience.
1. Adjust Your Attitude
How a person thinks and feels about moving to a new home can significantly predict adjustment. For adolescents, this perspective is often shaped by the attitude of their parents. This means that you can help your children adjust by setting a good example and building a positive outlook on the moving experience. Here are a few suggestions:
Make it an Adventure.
Moving involves a lot of big, taxing changes. However, focusing on the positive elements of the experience can lighten the burden. For example, if your family is moving to a new city, you can research cool new things to do there. Then, make plans with your kids to explore some of these opportunities when you arrive.
Whether you’re moving to the other side of the city or another country, changing homes can give your family a fresh start. Take advantage of the change. A new move can be an excellent opportunity to enjoy personalizing your new space, making new goals, and exploring new hobbies.
Give Space for the Bad, But Focus on the Good
However, there are still challenges that come with moving, and you shouldn’t brush them aside completely. Acknowledging and creating space to process “negative” emotions is healthy in moderation, and it can be cathartic and bonding for you and your kids to discuss the low points of your experience.
At the same time, actively remembering and reflecting on positive experiences can reshape your perspective in powerful ways. The renowned psychologist Martin Seligman found that regularly writing three good things that happen each day and why they took place increases long-term happiness.
One way in which you can combine these two perspectives is by talking with your kids about one “low” and three “highs” at the end of each day. Each of you shares one thing that was hard or frustrating and three things that were uplifting or positive. This exercise provides a safe, structured way to talk about hard things and support one another. It also allows family members to enjoy each other’s successes. Focusing on the positive aspects of each day in your new home can help you and your adolescents feel better about the move.
Reframe Your Story
The transition of moving can also allow you to take control of the way you tell your personal and family narrative. The way we frame our experiences significantly affects how we feel about them and how we feel about our lives in general. Try sitting down with your family to discuss different ways to see your collective story. For example, do you talk about the move as a terrible thing taking you away from your old friends? Perhaps instead, you could talk about your move as a new adventure that will be challenging and exciting as you find new ways to tell your story and aim for an accurate and optimistic view of events.
2. Encourage Outreach
Adolescents often do better socially when their parents encourage them to make friends. One way to help your kids adapt socially after a move is to find resources about activities through the school and community. These resources can include clubs, sports, and church youth groups. Try looking up the city you’re moving to and write down three events that your kids might find interesting. You could even invite your adolescents to do their own research. Then, plan a time to talk with your kids about the activities that each of you found and schedule time to check them out during the first few weeks after the move.
Another way to encourage outreach is by helping your kids practice social skills. Extraversion was found to be protective against some of the adverse emotional and social effects of moving, but you can’t force your kids to change their personalities. However, you can support your kids’ social adjustment and confidence by practicing social skills at home. They may roll their eyes, but possible role-playing scenarios can help your kids gain confidence to move out of their comfort zone and actively seek new friends. For example, before school starts, you could role-play the moment when your kids walk into the cafeteria for lunch. What kind of kids might they like to sit by? What could they say when they walk up to a table? What are two or three ways they can start conversations? As your adolescents begin to feel more prepared for these unfamiliar situations, they are less likely to feel afraid and more likely to try new things.
When helping your kids create goals for making new friends, don’t push your kids too hard. Moving can be an overwhelming experience, and too much-added pressure from their parents may be counterproductive. With this in mind, it may be useful to ask your adolescent children what kinds of practice would be most helpful.
3. Strengthen Your Relationship
Adolescents’ closeness with their parents is also related to positive outcomes, including a greater depth of relationships. Your teens may adjust better to a move if you build a stronger relationship with them now.
One of the best ways to strengthen your relationship with your adolescent children is to take time to listen to them. A good time to practice listening to your children is at regular family meals. Mealtimes can be a great time to catch up and enjoy bonding with the whole family.
In addition to time spent with the whole family, try to set aside some one-on-one time with each child. Individual attention can be significant after a move because children may feel vulnerable and alone. You can facilitate productive one-on-one time with your kids by scheduling structured activities such as shared hobbies, games, or outings together. Consider asking your kids what kinds of things they would like to do together and make space for those activities each week if possible.
Relationships thrive when people intentionally invest in their relationships in specific ways. John Gottman identified some of these worthwhile investments in his research on married couples, but similar principles can help strengthen parent-child relationships.
Some of the behaviors that John Gottman recommends include regular expressions of appreciation, physical affection, and stress-reducing conversations at the end of the day. So, try thanking your kids for the things they are doing well, give them a hug or two, and chat with them about the stresses of the day or about things that excite them.
I moved when I was fourteen years old. One of the things I will never forget from that transition is sitting on my mom’s bed with her after school, talking about how my day went. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried. Most importantly, I knew that I was important to her and that she would always be there for me, no matter what happened in that strange new place.
As with my experience, moving often has a lot of ups and downs, laughter and tears, but the goal is to make the best of the situation and come out stronger than before. This article identified three main ways to help your adolescents adjust positively to a new move—adjust your attitude, encourage outreach, and strengthen your relationship with your kids. Additionally, it included a lot of suggestions for how you can apply these principles. However, you know your kids best. Prepare intentionally for the move and post-move adjustment and choose what will work best for them.