By Beverly D. Roman
Of the 40.1 million plus people who relocate every year, approximately one-fourth are children. The challenge of relocating children is becoming more significant due to increasing numbers of single parents, dual career families and grandparents raising grandchildren. A little known fact is that children who frequently relocate repeat grades more often and experience more behavioral problems versus children who seldom or never move.
Children have a difficult time projecting themselves into another environment. They only see what they are giving up. Having to leave friends, schools and their favorite activities can be devastating for children. In addition, parents feel helpless because they realize that their decision to relocate has caused the stress their children are experiencing.
I advise parents to never underestimate the effects relocation can have on their children, even if one or several of them sailed through the last move. It's important that parents first of all explain to their children that they are moving, including the reasons why. Children should know that the entire family will be working together to realize a positive relocation experience. When questions and concerns are raised by the children, parents should listen very carefully, addressing each issue in a meaningful way. Children adjust, or do not adjust, in different ways and at different speeds. Some may seem to adapt well at first and then later slip back, or vice versa.
Building awareness among relocating families about the possibility of non-adjustment, and providing the resources to assist them, is a significant part of achieving successful relocation. Parents need to closely watch their children's behaviors for at least the first six months and understand what constitutes non-adjustment indicators. Signs that children are not adjusting well include: sudden changes in attention span or study habits, problems with reading, weight loss or gain, altered enthusiasm or energy levels, unusually strained relationships with their families and disturbed sleep patterns.
Encourage your children to stay in contact with former friends and family by exchanging pictures and letters. You can also establish an e-mail account for your family and purchase pre-paid telephone cards for children to use. If the distance is not too great, children can have exchange visits with friends during holidays or long weekends. Stay abreast of how your children are adjusting by discussing school and personal issues during routine family meetings.
When children are miserable and lonely, a day at school can seem like an eternity. Parents have to pencil school visitations into their schedule, no matter how busy they are. During these visits they can speak to the teachers and visit class activities to see for themselves how their children are adjusting. Another means to develop awareness is to hold frequent family meetings. These get-togethers will provide an opportunity for the entire family to talk about their new location, school and work while sharing their feelings and challenges.
HOW COMPANIES AND ORGANIZATIONS ARE BECOMING INVOLVED
The challenge of achieving successful family relocations deserves a high priority among corporate policies, and with some, it is. Increasing numbers of corporations, the military, missions and organizations such as USA Girl Scouts Overseas are taking steps to address the challenge of relocating children. They are supplementing their policies and needs with relocation literature; attending transition seminars such as the Families in Global Transitions Conferences; conducting in-house orientation; utilizing selection programs and offering cross-cultural training for the entire family. Many companies are also establishing employee family feedback systems to improve the process and decrease relocation failures.
The challenge of starting over in a new school should be shared by children, parents and teachers. Contact the new school in advance and inquire whether they have a welcome program or if they encourage pen pals. Having a "buddy" upon arrival to help children become acclimated will speed integration into a new school. Also, having a pen pal to communicate with beforehand can help a child feel more at home and have a ready made friend when he or she arrives.
Parents need to make the school personnel aware if their children have special needs, whether academic, physical or social-emotional. If the school cannot address the family's issues, they should be able to recommend other avenues of assistance.
It is not possible to place a value on the loss of days, weeks or years by a child or spouse due to a failed relocation. If employers could actually be present when parents are trying to explain to their children why it is important for them to move and leave all their friends, sports teams and schools, they would be convinced helping children and teenagers is a key aspect of achieving successful family relocation.
Reprinted from Relocation Today, Vol. 3, No. 3. 2001, by Beverly D. Roman, publisher and published by BR Anchor Publishing, Wilmington, NC. Beverly is the author of over twenty relocation titles and the popular newsletter,