What if

THE WALLS HAVE BELLY BUT­TONS ON THEM?

Parents Canada - - Relating -

For Jack­son, this was a to­tally le­git­i­mate fear about the house we just pur­chased. Af­ter all, belly but­tons rep­re­sented all that was cur­rently ter­ri­fy­ing in his world. So it made per­fect sense that navels should fig­ure in his mis­giv­ings about mov­ing. While my hus­band and I could barely con­tain our ex­cite­ment, my eight-year-old son was hav­ing night­mar­ish vi­sions at the prospect of such ma­jor change. I say, “ma­jor” be­cause al­though our home was not the only place he’d ever lived, it was the only one he re­mem­bered. And here were his trusted par­ents, pulling the rug out from un­der him, al­most lit­er­ally.

When it comes to stress­ful life events, mov­ing is up there with death and di­vorce. And no won­der. Even though kids aren’t the ones pack­ing boxes and con­tact­ing util­i­ties, it’s of­ten the lit­tle peo­ple who feel the un­cer­tainty and chaos of re­lo­ca­tion most acutely. Not only do they have to ad­just to a strange new bed­room, they may also be leav­ing be­hind the only school and com­mu­nity they’ve ever known.

For kids who thrive on sta­bil­ity and pre­dictabil­ity, mov­ing can prove a down­right trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence that elic­its a mixed bag of emo­tions: ap­pre­hen­sion, ea­ger­ness, sor­row, dread, even re­sent­ment. A UK study from War­wick Med­i­cal School sug­gests that kids who switch schools fre­quently may ex­pe­ri­ence “feel­ings of low self-es­teem and a sense of so­cial de­feat” as well as men­tal health con­cerns later in life – par­tic­u­larly, adds an­other re­cent study, if the move oc­curs dur­ing early ado­les­cence.

That’s why it’s so cru­cial for grown-ups to stay up­beat and pos­i­tive, says ther­a­pist and lead­ing par­ent­ing ed­u­ca­tor, Alyson Schafer. Mov­ing nat­u­rally makes kids feel in­se­cure. They need re­as­sur­ance about what the change will mean for them.

Will I still see grandma? Will I go to the same school? Can I see my friends? Will the dog come, too? Even if kids don’t ask such ques­tions out­right, Schafer urges par­ents to ad­dress po­ten­tial con­cerns to help chil­dren “feel a sense of con­trol and to an­tic­i­pate what will hap­pen”.

No two kids are alike, of course. While re­lo­cat­ing can be tough on kids like Jack­son, some re­main ut­terly, pleas­antly obliv­i­ous. Still, oth­ers ap­pear re­silient at the time, only to reel from the im­pact later on.

In cases where sep­a­ra­tion ne­ces­si­tates the sale of the fam­ily home, such up­heaval is ex­ac­er­bated. When his par­ents broke up, six-year-old Ai­den* was sud­denly forced to adapt to two new homes, two dis­tinct rou­tines, and, ul­ti­mately, his par­ents’ re­spec­tive new part­ners. Al­though Ottawa mom, Janet Mor­ri­son, did her best to help her son nav­i­gate the tran­si­tion (show­ing him pic­tures of the new apart­ment and al­low­ing him to dec­o­rate his new room), she wasn’t in­volved in his fa­ther’s move. Aside from cling­ing more to his stuffed an­i­mals be­fore and im­me­di­ately af­ter the move, Ai­den adapted eas­ily to the tran­si­tion – even bet­ter, joked his mom Janet, than her.

“As long as he could play and have his be­long­ings with him, he seemed to deal well with our move, whereas I would of­ten feel sad and nos­tal­gic.” At one point, Ai­den even said, “Mom, it’s just a house,” re­mind­ing her that it’s not the phys­i­cal struc­ture that makes a home, but the peo­ple who live there.

As our own move drew near, Jack­son’s mount­ing anx­i­ety grew along­side the sealed boxes, piled high in the liv­ing room. We rhymed off the virtues of the pad, and gushed at how his new bed­room was so much bet­ter than his cur­rent one. Twice we took him to visit our dream house, hop­ing some of our en­thu­si­asm would rub off on him. Both times he re­fused to set foot past the sit­ting room, and buried him­self in his iPad. The hard sell clearly wasn’t work­ing, so we backed off.

Sleep­less nights fol­lowed, for all of us. Our col­lec­tive anx­i­ety spilled into the school day. Jack­son was ir­ri­ta­ble. Any lit­tle tri­fle set him off. I ex­plained our sit­u­a­tion to his teacher so she would cut him some slack while he wres­tled with dif­fi­cult feel­ings. At home I made a con­certed ef­fort to lis­ten more and talk less. I won’t lie; it was hard.

When mov­ing day fi­nally rolled around, we were all re­lieved and deeply ex­hausted. One of the first things I did was put fresh sheets on Jack­son’s bed, and hung fa­mil­iar pic­tures on the bare walls of his room. See, I told him. All your stuff is here. I bought a new bin and or­ga­nized his toys while Daddy put up his book­case.

By the end of the week Jack­son was eas­ing into the new digs and ad­just­ing to the rou­tine, which in­cluded a dif­fer­ent route to school.

At bed­time I over­heard my hus­band ask my son which house he pre­ferred. I held my breath, afraid to hear the an­swer. It’s too soon, I silently chided my hubby. Then Jack­son ex­claimed, “This one. I love this house!”

Good, I thought – feel­ing worry seep out of me like a slowly de­flat­ing bal­loon – be­cause I’m not mov­ing again for an­other 20 years.

TO SUP­PORT AND PRE­PARE CHIL­DREN OF

ALL AGES FOR THIS MA­JOR, OF­TEN IN­EVITABLE, TRAN­SI­TION, SCHAFER HAS THE FOL­LOW­ING AD­VICE:

Pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to help kids an­tic­i­pate what the new place will be like. Show them pic­tures and if pos­si­ble, ar­range

a walk-through of the space.

Ex­plain how the week of the move will go. For ex­am­ple, will they be at a babysit­ter’s,

or travel in the car with mom and dad? Al­low chil­dren to pack (and un­pack) a box of their favourite things so they feel a sense

of con­trol dur­ing the process.

Set up their bed­rooms first to give them time to set­tle in.

Ex­plain that it’s nor­mal to feel up­set

and anx­ious dur­ing a move.

Share any per­sonal sto­ries you may have from your own child­hood moves.

Em­pha­size the as­pects of their lives

that will re­main the same.

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