Effects of Moving on Childrens and Teens Mental Health

Posted by Ryan Fitzgerald on Thursday, November 4th, 2021 at 10:08am.

The Effects of Moving on Childrens’ and Teens’ Mental Health: A Guide for Parents

Moving is a stressful experience at the best of times, especially with families. Add in any extenuating circumstances, and it can deeply affect children and teens. In fact, kids who have moved five or more times during their childhood are three times more likely to develop mental health problems compared to kids who never moved at all.

Moving to a new city is a huge change that comes with plenty of new challenges for children to face. In a situation of relocation, children, and teens often feel stressed and unheard resulting in abnormal social behavior though this may be masked by initial excitement around the move. When children are exposed to unstable housing environments, they develop a lower sense of personal well-being and satisfaction as well as experience fewer quality friendships which have a negative impact on health.

The Effects of Moving on Children's and Teens Mental Health

Overall, a parent’s ultimate job is to make sure that their kids are flourishing in a stable and secure atmosphere which is hard to accomplish right after a move. Since moving is considered a major stressor in life, involving your children as much as possible in the decision and supporting them along the process are key to reducing negative mental health risks. 

Meeting the Challenges of a Big Move in Your Child’s Life 

Families move for a variety of reasons whether it be for military deployment, a job transition, being closer to family, or simply for a change of scenery. No matter where you decide to move to, if you are moving cross country, for example, the change will not come without difficulty. 

Studies have shown that moving kids over the age of five have an increased difficulty leaving behind friends and adjusting to a new living situation. Adapting to a new school in particular during important developmental years can be detrimental to growth.

Even though children may have no say in the overall move itself, it will help to talk about problems that may arise in advance as well as to develop a game plan for issues ahead of time. In order to minimize stressors, it is important to keep as much of a routine as possible to maintain a sense of order and control. Make sure to focus on the positives and stay upbeat even in overwhelming situations. Encourage your children to get involved right away in school and the community by finding local activities to join or organizations to participate in. Never let them forget to stay in contact with old meaningful friendships and to use social media as an outlet.

Considerations for Especially Intense Circumstances

Sad child after moving into a new home and acclimating to a new area

Relocating After a Natural Disaster

Sometimes moving is inevitable due to unpredictable situations that are out of a family’s control. In the instance of a natural disaster, moving can be especially difficult if many if not all personal possessions are lost. Often recovering from a natural disaster can take weeks or even months and most outcomes involve a family being uprooted from their home. Relocation stress after a disaster is normal behavior that can be hard to deal with. The view of the world as safe is often obstructed and obscured. After a disaster, children are the most vulnerable, and delayed emotional reactions can be expected depending on the age group. 

Signs of stress in children that need professional help may include:

  • Aggressive emotional outbursts 

  • Total withdraw from family and friends 

  • Nightmares and sleeping problems 

  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings

  • The concern of their own safety and the safety of others 

  • Shame or guilt from the natural disaster 

  • Impulsive behaviors 

Loss Of A Loved One

The loss of a loved one can also be a reason for moving. Losing a family member or close friend is traumatic and will leave your child grieving and confused. When a move is involved after such a loss, the removal from friends and a secure environment can compound that grief. How a child grieves will depend on multiple factors including age, developmental level, personality, and relationship to the loved one lost. In this case, it is important to understand how children and teens view death in order to help your child cope with and move on from the loss.

How do certain age groups grieve from a loss of a loved one? 

Infancy 

Infants from ages 0-2 years have no concept of death. While they may react to a change in the environment, babies at this age may cry more often or become clingy and irritable. 

Preschoolers 

Children ages 3-4 years have no understanding that death is a permanent state. Some signs of grief include crying, withdrawal, tantrums, changing in eating or sleeping, and constantly searching for the missing loved one. 

School Children 

Kids ages 5-12 years understand death and may develop an interest in where the lost loved one went. Lots of love, affection, and reassurance are needed in order to help heal from the grief. Children may develop behavioral problems, increased anxiety, withdrawal, not wanting to go to school, and blaming themselves for the death.

Teenagers 

Teens ages 13 years and beyond know that death is part of life but due to this they often have a harder time with grief. Some common behaviors may include isolation, withdrawal, regressing, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Divorce

Divorce is not only difficult for the parents involved but any children in the situation tend to experience the stress associated with it. Supporting your child during a divorce and transitioning to not only a new family dynamic but also a new living situation tends to add another layer of stress and anxiety to the move. 

On top of emotional stress, there are also some legal considerations for moving your family after or during a divorce. Many states have specific laws involving custody of children and whether or not the parent can move out of the area with the children. For those living in Raleigh, custody is decided by either the parties involved or by a judge.  Buying a home as a single mom or dad is not without its challenges, but finding a home in a location that is safe for the family is among one of the top priorities. If you are looking for new homes for sale in Raleigh, there are plenty of resources available to help you and your children through this transition. 

A happy child moving into a new home and relocation

Preparing for a Smooth Transition and Helping Teens Say Goodbye

While moving is hard on younger children, teenagers tend to have a harder time adjusting. The teen affected has to leave behind not only the school that they have become accustomed to but also good friends, clubs, and extracurricular activities that they have invested time and energy into. The process of relocating is not an easy one so it is crucial to help your teen through this difficult time in their lives.

Instead of putting off the idea of moving until the last minute, make sure to give your teenager as much notice as possible to work through their feelings and prepare for heartfelt goodbyes. Involving your teen as much as possible in the moving process is also a great way to get them used to the idea. Bring them along for the house hunt and have them scope out new homes with you. Get them accustomed to the neighborhood and area before moving, and let them pick out their own bedroom.

Ways to help your teen say goodbye:

  • Focus on the positives of moving and what it will bring to the family. 

  • Throw a going-away party or packing party with all of their closest friends. 

  • Let them pack their own belongings and decide what they want to bring.

  • Set up social media to keep them connected to old friends. 

Setting In and Adapting, Moving Forward

Even though saying goodbye is difficult, starting over again in a new place can be even harder. Once the going away party has commenced and the packing has been completed, the reality of moving will start to set in. Since this is such an overwhelming time, it is important to be there for your teen by helping them adapt and move forward. Be their biggest cheerleader and support them every step of the way.

Help your teen adjust to their new home by:

  • Stay upbeat around your teen and aim to keep a smile on their face. 

  • Set up their room first and let them decorate it as they wish.

  • Get them involved in school right away.

  • Encourage them to register in local activities or recreational sports. 

  • Enlist the help of a peer mentor for extra support. 

  • Find ways to communicate openly and allow them to vent out their frustrations and feelings.

Mental Health Care is one of the most important aspects of childhood and moving can cause stress

Watching Out For Warning Signs

Mental health problems affect not only adults but children as well. In fact, one in every five children suffers from a mental illness that has an impact on daily life. Big changes and sudden upheaval in your child’s life can lead to unexpected mental health concerns for your child, especially if your move is a result of a traumatic event such as a natural disaster or bad accident. Traumatic experiences are destructive and often lead to scary emotions that are uncomfortable to face. If a child is forced to move after some form of trauma, they are most likely to become overwhelmed and experience negative emotional and behavioral reactions. Keep in mind that in the case of a traumatic event, many children grieve in different ways. Create a safe space and a trustworthy environment for your child to fully heal from past traumas.

Every parent wants to think that their children are loving life but sometimes that can be further from the truth. Since the signs of mental illness can be identified differently depending on the age of the child and the type of illness, it is imperative to pay attention to any warning signs and odd behavior. While dealing with mental illness can take a toll on the family members of the one impacted as well, it is important to diagnose the problem with haste. Thankfully, the earlier that the mental illness is diagnosed, the easier it is to seek treatment. 

How to recognize signs of mental health concerns:

  • Aggression 

  • Destructive behaviors 

  • Threatening to run away 

  • Withdrawl from family and friends 

  • Suggesting to harm oneself 

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Drug or alcohol abuse 

  • Changes in weight 

  • Loss of appetite 

  • Decrease in school performance and bad grades

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

  • Change in sleep patterns 

  • Prolonged periods of sadness 

  • Hyperactivity

If any of these signs are present and you are worried about your child’s behavior then the next step is to seek help from a professional. Contact your local health provider or a specialist for an evaluation. Medication and therapy may be needed in order to move forward.

Resources for Further Reading

Age-By-Age 

Teenager Specific 

External Resources and Organizations

  • Kids Health: This resource for kids provides general health information.

  • Kids Health for Teens: This teen resource provides information such as how to deal with stress, how to approach abusive relationships, and how to stay healthy and happy. 

  • Child Care: Find child care near you and learn how to select the best child care program for your family.

A family sitting on a couch after relocating and making a move to a new area


Ryan Fitzgerald Raleigh RealtyHi there! I'm Ryan Fitzgerald, a REALTOR in Raleigh-Durham, NC and the owner of Raleigh Realty. Chances are you and I share a similar passion, Real Estate! I also have a passion for building businesses, working out, inspiring others, technology, sports, and people. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram!

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