Diane Sasser, Merrill, Thomas A. | 11/5/2005 3:51:09 AM
Moving to a new home is stressful under the best of circumstances, but many Gulf Coast families have made one or more moves this year because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Such events can take an emotional toll on families and particularly on children, says LSU AgCenter family life specialist Dr. Diane Sasser.
"Recent disasters in the Gulf Coast area have required families to move, sometimes more than once," Sasser says, adding, "Adjustments to new locations, whether temporary or permanent, are difficult to make, particularly for children."
The LSU AgCenter expert says each move takes a toll on the families’ emotions and points out that some families have made several moves – away from home, into hotels or in with family members and, for some, back home or into new homes.
"Children have the most difficult time understanding and coming to terms with moves," Sasser points out. "When coupled with the trauma of escaping a disaster, grappling with the fear of the unknown and being forced into less-than-desirable living arrangements can cause stress for everyone involved."
Sasser says most family members will experience grief because of the losses they experience when being forced to leave a school, neighborhood, friends, home, lifestyle and even household items such as familiar toys, favorite chairs and so forth that were an integral part of day-to-day living.
To cope with the effects of that grief and loss, she advises it is important to try to get everyone in the family into a "normal" routine as soon as possible.
"The familiarity that comes from a routine helps to somewhat alleviate stress and it provides some appearance that things will be OK, Sasser says. "It also is comforting for children to have at least one favorite item to move with them, if possible."
Despite those kinds of efforts, however, the LSU AgCenter expert says you should be prepared for some acting out and moodiness from family members. These are natural signs of stress and adjustment, she points out.
"Reactions from children will vary, depending on their personality and developmental age," Sasser explains. "Children who are naturally outgoing will tend to make new friends more quickly. Those who are generally more adaptable to new circumstances will, of course, bounce back more easily than others."
For example, the family life expert says infants and toddlers generally make transitions well, but since children aren’t the only ones affected by the circumstances there could be spillover from the adults in their lives.
"Infants and toddlers do pick up on the stress level of parents and may seem particularly fussy and demanding," Sasser says. "Or if your child was being cared for by someone other than yourself and that person who did not make the move, the child may experience some sense of loss but be unable to express it."
Very young children may experience some digression in learning and go, for example, from being toilet trained back to wetting, Sasser says of other consequences. They also may cling more to parents and to favorite objects such as toys, blankets and so forth, she says.
When it comes to school-age children, Sasser says they are able to understand the loss but may not know how to deal with the emotions associated with the move – particularly when it comes to such issues as separation from friends and school.
"School-age children may experience a great deal of confusion, frustration and anger and may be unable to identify the cause of these emotions," the LSU AgCenter expert says. "They may get into arguments at their new schools or lash out at home against parents or siblings."
Older children – particularly teen-agers – will feel a dramatic sense of loss of relationships, Sasser points out.
"Teen-agers are at a point in their lives when they are establishing more long-term relationships, so these types of moves can be really tough for them," she says. "Being separated from romantic or casual relationships can cause great stress.
"Their primary concern, in addition to trying to hang onto those relationships, will be to fit into the new school and specifically become accepted by the ‘right’ groups."
One of the complications for children is that moving to a new school frequently means different ways of doing things, slightly different styles of dress, different slang and different sources of entertainment.
"Studies show that adjustment to a new situation, a new home, could take as long as 16 months, perhaps even longer if multiple moves are required," Sasser says.
While experts say the first month or so after a move is the most difficult, Sasser says the difficulties don’t end during that brief a time. In fact, she says problems can continue as reality sets in and family members recall people, places and things they are missing.
To ease the adjustments and help family members cope, Sasser offers these tips:
–Listening, listening and listening some more to your children will give them an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment and help you to determine their stress levels.
–Short-term counseling may also help to strengthen children’s coping skills.
–If parents are good role models for their children in dealing with change, children learn healthy coping strategies and can more easily adapt.
–Parents also should seek counseling if they feel they could use advice about coping and stress management.
–For children of all ages, books on moving may be helpful.
–School-age children should be taken on a tour of the new school, library, neighborhood and community as soon as possible.
–Try to connect with a family that has a child or children about the same age as yours. Arrange to meet for tips on where to go, what to do and which clubs, groups or activities are available.
–Teens need a little "observation" time to determine what "the other kids" are wearing, saying and doing. If possible, buying a special outfit in which the teen feels good can make the teen feel comfortable enrolling at a new school.
–Teens require extra patience, listening and understanding from parents as they work through the emotional challenges of each move.
For more information on communicating with children, coping, stress and change, or other topics, contact your parish office of the LSU AgCenter or visit the Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.
Contact: Diane Sasser at (225) 578-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or email@example.com
Sasser’s suggestions on good children’s books about moving (possible sidebar):