Flashback to little AJ Earley, 14 going on 15. She’d attended Monroe Elementary for six years, and spent her entire junior high tenure at Boise, Idaho’s lovely South Junior High. It was nearing the end of the first half of her 9th grade year, her last year of junior high, after which she’d move on to Borah High School, and take with her all of the friends she’d gained over the last nine years. There were some bumpy patches (like when some of the kids would make fun of her weight by calling her “Speedbump,”) but the bullying was made easier by the good friends she’d always had by her side.
Everything seemed to be going perfectly, until her parents decided to buy a new house and move a couple of miles away. Into a new school district. The school district of West Junior High, where there were no good friends to make her feel safe and comfortable. West was in Borah’s district, which meant little AJ would be reunited with her friends in less than a year’s time, but this just wasn’t the plan.
She loved her friends, she loved her school. Her classes and her teachers, she realized that all of it was perfect as soon as she was threatened with losing it. And West Junior High… ugh, they said such awful things about that school: the band was terrible, the kids were mean, and all the girls had eating disorders. And worst of all, she didn’t know anyone. She was too upset, too angry, too scared. Switching schools the last half of ninth grade was literally the worst thing that could happen to little AJ. She was certain a strange new environment would be her absolute downfall. She couldn't handle the pain. She was desperate.
Little AJ wrote up a petition stating why she shouldn’t have to change schools, printed it out, and spent a couple of days gathering signatures from her South Junior High schoolmates. She got over 280 classmates to sign it, and presented it to her parents. Yes, she petitioned her parents (anyone who knows her won’t at all be surprised by this.) She also arranged for a friend’s mother to give her rides (that she’d pay for with her paper route money) so her parents wouldn’t have to worry about that. And let’s not forget that she’d have to quit her paper route if she moved! How would she be able to afford that expensive shampoo and the cool brands of shoes and jeans?! What you wore and how you looked was the only way to define your character back then…
Well, the petition didn’t work. Little AJ had to change schools, and it was really rough. She just didn’t understand how her parents could do this to her… her life was literally ruined. Emo may or may not have been in at the time, and she may or may not have worn a lot of black and talked constantly about how her emotions were just too much. It was awful.
Okay, I will admit: little AJ was a dramatic teenage girl who was still learning that the world didn’t revolve around her (and maybe grown-up AJ will admit that her parents not giving into her charades may have helped with that lesson a bit,) but that doesn’t change the fact that switching schools is definitely a traumatic experience for kids, especially when you’re moving to an entirely new state or city where their friends aren’t close enough to hang out on the weekends.
Of course, as parents, we can’t not take opportunities for better jobs, or responsibilities to help out family members, or really any other reason that would cause us to uproot our families and move to a new place. Parents in this situation shouldn’t feel bad about “taking away” their children’s comfortable environments. However, they should be equipped with a toolkit to help their kids cope with the massive changes they’re about to undergo. Here is my best advice for parents in this situation:
Let Them Mourn
The first step is to let them process their emotions and be there to hear them out. They may be excited for the change, or they may think it’s the end of their world; either way, they will have some strong feelings on the matter, and they need to know that this is okay. They will eventually have to cope, but if you act like they’re being overly dramatic and come at it with a, “get over it” attitude, you may get an extreme response (like your own kids petitioning you.) Being there to help them through this transition will make a world of difference to them.
Focus On The Positive
Once they’ve had space to air their negative feelings, help relinquish them by giving them positive things to focus on. If you have any family or friends where you’re going, remind them that they won’t be entirely surrounded by strangers. Look up all the cool stuff in your new home and get your kids excited about that.
Are they an athlete? Look up the sports programs at their new school and talk about how great they are. Into music? Maybe your new town has a thriving music scene and you can offer to take them to a few concerts that they wouldn’t be able to see where you are now. If they’re outdoorsy, find the hiking/mountain biking/fishing/etc. options near your new home and make some plans to check them out, or encourage any little history buffs to look up the heritage of their new locale and find all the cool museums and tours they’d like to go on. Giving them things to look forward to once you’re relocated will help them naturally turn some of their negative feelings into positive anticipation and excitement.
Moving away is a big deal to kids, especially those who have settled in long enough to have a good network of friends and extracurricular activities. One way you can lend credence to how much this will impact them is to throw them a giant going away bash that acknowledges what a big deal their move is. Let them invite all their friends and give them time to hang out one last time and say their goodbyes.
You can also get a little crafty and set up a station where their friends all write their addresses down on envelopes, and then get some cool stationary and use it all to set up a ready-to-go pen pal kit to give them once you’re moved. Sending letters via snail mail is kind of old-fashioned, but in the instance of losing the presence of a good friend, all parties will be thrilled to receive a handwritten letter. The last time I moved away, I set up a craft table with all sorts of fun, random supplies and asked all my friends to make me a little piece of art, whatever they wanted, for me to hang on my fridge to remind me of all my loved ones back home. Your kids will be excited to have a bunch of very personal art to display in their new bedrooms once they move.
Lead By Example
Some kids are more adept at making friends than others, but no matter how much of a social butterfly your little one is, they might need some help in an entirely new environment. One of the quickest and easiest ways to help your children (and yourself) cultivate some familiar faces in a strange place is to be a good neighbor and take the initiative to get to know people in your new neighborhood: go on walks and hit up local spots like parks, coffee shops, and farmer’s markets. Strike up conversations with those you see on your outings, and try to plan a small get-together with other neighborhood families. This is a great way to help your kids meet potential new friends. Once they start school, try getting involved in the PTA, or other parent-focused group, so you can make friends with other parents from your child’s school, and hopefully, help your kids meet some new friends too.
Once they do find kids they like, encourage them to spend time together, or take the initiative to plan playdates if they are littler ones. Again, be there to hear them out and let them tell you all about their adventures, and let them talk about the not-so-good times too. No matter what, taking extra time to lend a listening ear and encourage them to keep getting out there and exploring their new home will make a huge difference during their tough transition.
No matter how you go about it, relocating to a new city or state is a big change for any kid. If you handle it the right way, though, they will be making new friends and finding new places to spend their time, and before you know it, they will feel like they are truly home.