How Does Frequently Moving Affect Children?

father and mother smiling with children while moving residence

When children are born, they begin observing their surroundings and learning how to manage interactions with the world. The environment created by parents for their children and the techniques they use to raise them helps shape the kind of adult they will grow to become. Children require a safe, nurturing, and stable household. Nevertheless, these requisites can be challenging to provide for some parents and can leave lasting effects on their children.

Stability is the keyword here, meaning that kids will generally know what to expect from their day-to-day activities. It also means they feel secure in their relationships, health, and safety. Destabilization can occur for a variety of reasons. Parents might experience turbulence in their marriage and separation or divorce. Financial concerns could become known and passed onto the child as a significant stressor. Sudden and frequent changes in routine can bring about great uncertainty. There are more examples, but perhaps the most impactful is moving to a new home and school. Children of military personnel feel the brunt of these changes, which can be exacerbated by cultural changes experienced when moving to an entirely different country.

What’s the Research Say?

The effects that moving has on children can be complicated to determine. Studies that track families over many years are typically required to rule out other variables that may influence the findings. These other variables set aside, studies have found similarly conclusive results. According to the Institute for Family Studies, stress due to repeated transitions can undermine a child’s sense of control over their life. Parents may also feel this and begin to suffer from mental health issues, affecting their ability to parent and instill a sense of security and trust in the child’s life. In turn, the child may develop their own emotional, social, and academic deficits. Children can also experience learned helplessness, meaning that, as a result of prior stressful experiences, they come to accept and remain passive in negative situations that they have the power to change. The implications of this on future decision-making can be detrimental.

One study looking at the effects moving had on children found that moving two or more times before the age of two “was associated with increased internalizing behavior problems in children at age nine.” Internalizing behavior was characterized by withdrawal or depression, meaning that the moves resulted in negative mental health outcomes for the child during adolescence. The researchers hypothesize that this may suggest the first two years of a child’s life are particularly sensitive to residential mobility, although more research is needed.

In the short term, moving frequently can indeed cause children to have increased behavioral and academic problems. However, one group of researchers wanted to look at the longer-term effects of such life changes and evaluated 7,108 adults. Regardless of age, gender, and education level, the likelihood of reporting lower life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and quality social relationships during adulthood was higher in persons who frequently moved as a child. Researchers also discovered that introverts and those with neuroticism fared worse when it came to moving repeatedly. Persons who hold these personality traits tend to have a difficult time forming new relationships and managing stressful situations.

We’re in the Military

For children of military families, moving is nothing new. Some move every two to three years, whether it be to a new state or a different country. According to the Office of Policy Development and Research, these are some difficulties children have reported:

  • Increased family tensions
  • Separating from friends and teachers
  • Developing new friendships and student-teacher bonds
  • Learning and adapting to a new school and community
  • Getting accepted into extracurricular activities and social networks

These changes can be exceedingly difficult to adapt to and affect the child’s mental health. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that military children aged 6-11 years old had an increased chance of mental health and outpatient visits due to moving in the past year. Similarly, children aged 12-17 experienced increased chances of mental outpatient visits, psychiatric hospitalizations, and emergency psychiatric visits.

Comforting the Kids

There is a clear need to address the instability that children experience as a result of relocating. As a parent, there are a few things you can do. For example, be honest and clear about why the move was necessary. Spend time familiarizing them with the new area, get them involved with local activities, facilitate communication and visits with old friends, and encourage the child to participate in the moving process and designing their new room. There are optimal mental health programs that help develop stability and teach healthy coping mechanisms for children.

Children require a safe and stable environment to grow into healthy, functioning adults. Frequent disruptions in their environment and relationships can result in emotional, behavioral, and academic deficits that follow them into adulthood. Moving is a stressful and burdensome process, and multiple relocations during early childhood and adolescence are associated with increased psychiatric visits and hospitalizations. Some children may become withdrawn and depressed. Children in military families know this reality all too well and may move every two to three years on average. Leaving friends and family can be painful, but addressing these issues sooner rather than later can help children overcome these changes. If your family is experiencing this, consider Achieve Concierge as your go-to mental health service. We specialize in treating children, adolescents, and adults for a range of mental health conditions. We are highly flexible and take a comprehensive approach with our patients. Call us today: (619) 393-5871.

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