Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Dear Dr. Debbie
My husband has a new job in another state and we will be moving at the end of the school year. My 8 year old hates the idea. While our other kids seem flexible about it, she is the most ‘rooted’ in our community- friends, clubs, etc. She is acting angrily towards us and cries about it if we try to talk about it. Can you help us make her transition easier?
Target of Her Anger
So she acts as if her world is coming to an end and you and her father are the cause? Typically eight. Moving is hard, but especially for the socially rooted eight-year-old. At this age, her friends are her world. They tell each other how to talk, dress, think, believe, and feel. If they’re good friends, they’re probably reinforcing her feelings of being upset about the move! Peers mean everything to an eight-year-old. Your world will be changing, too, but you have more control over finding your way around in a new place, and certainly less need for external approval.
The transition can be made smoother for your daughter if you forge some strong links. Link her to the social world of eight-year-olds in the new community as you strengthen links in her current world of friends.
Find out about school, sports, scouts, and any other activities she will find herself in in her new neighborhood. You and she may be able to do some online visiting if physical visiting isn’t possible. Likely she’ll feign disinterest, so as not to appear disloyal to her current social ties, so be sure to be sympathetic and not too pushy. We can’t expect her to be able to imagine that she could possibly have any new friends as dear to her as her current friends. Find a couple of summer options for her to choose from (or choose for her If the notion is too unbearable) through the public library, recreation or arts council, schools, religious organizations, etc. Something familiar may be your best bet. For example, if she has participated in Junior Rangers at Sandy Point Park, see if there will be a state or national park with this program in your area. Girl Scouts of the United States is another national program with local activities, but you’ll need to do some advance work to not miss registration deadlines. A summer program would be an excellent entrée into her new surroundings. A skilled camp counselor or recreation leader can assist in hooking her up with a “starter” friend until she gets her bearings.
Her current friendships should be supported as much as possible. Include her friends in family outings and be sure to take photos and videos to be enjoyed for years to come. Perhaps your daughter can be encouraged to start a journal as well. Ask her friends’ parents to assist in continuing contact after the move. With this much advance notice, everyone can get in good practice with telephone skills and letter writing (yes, it’s still done), as well as electronic communications.
After the move, help her to use these means of maintaining close contact with her old friends. If possible, plan to get them together again, even if this means an overnight visit. Highways, train tracks, and flight routes can connect us to loved ones in just a matter of hours. The older they get, the easier long distance travel and overnight stays will be. I recall a lovely Thanksgiving week with a guest nine-year-old at our house that flew by with the two friends savoring every minute of it. My son took a solo plane trip at age twelve to join a family on summer vacation in Massachusetts. A dear friend since preschool who (tragically at the time) moved away with her family to Arizona at sixteen kept in touch and invited my daughter for a visit to Colorado in their college years. She recently celebrated her wedding in Michigan with my daughter in attendance. Time will tell which of your daughter’s friendships will endure. For those that do, she will be richly rewarded, for these are indeed life’s treasures.
Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com
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