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Relocation anxiety: How you and your child can cope

The idea of home and family is usually also tied to where you live. Moving, even if voluntarily, can have underlying psychological implications

While it is true that children are immensely adaptable, moving cities can affect them, too.
While it is true that children are immensely adaptable, moving cities can affect them, too. (Photo by loly galina on Unsplash)

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A few months ago, my family and I moved to a new city. I was very excited and believed that Mumbai, our new home, would broaden my horizons. It was going to be a grand adventure.

Two days after my move, however, I could not get out of bed. I took the day off from work. I felt overcome with despair and despondency. It did not make sense to me that something I looked forward to did not hold promise anymore. Everything about a new city triggered me negatively. I felt overwhelmed, impossible to relax, hard to sleep.

How would I find my footing? And how will I help my child cope with this move? I was especially worried because as parents, we love to believe in the resilience of children — we think that because they are younger, they are more open to changes.

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While it is true that children are immensely adaptable, moves affect them, too. They lose friends and peers when moving schools; they also lose the familiar sights and sounds of a place in which they were growing up, and from where they were learning more about themselves with relation to the world. Many are not, or do not know how to be, vocal about these anxieties.

When my therapist told me about relocation anxiety, all of this was set in perspective. There are many underlying psychological implications to moving, since homes are our symbols of safety, a space from where we can nurture our hopes and dreams. Moving may seem exciting, but it also uproots that safety net.

A study published in the Social Indicators Research journal in 2016 had researchers from Netherlands and Germany study both locals and migrants. They found that while stayers or residents spent a lot of time outdoors, movers spent a lot of time at home and on the computer because they liked it more.

The authors of the study, Martijn Hendriks, Kai Ludwigs, and Ruut Veenhoven, also state that movers are lonely because they do not have a group of friends, yet and may feel too stressed or demotivated to create this circle. This becomes a vicious circle.

Here’s what you can do to cope with a move, ease into a new place, and work your way forward as a family.

Establish familiar family routines as you explore the new place: Try and follow the same daily domestic routines in your new city or country. The most important is the same bed time. Sleep-deprived children can find it tougher to cope. Stick to familiar bedtimes, morning routines, and chores.

Keep in touch with relatives: This goes for family in different places, or the ones in the place you’ve left behind. Communicate constantly with them, especially to grandparents, to give children a sense of security and familial comfort.

Stick to hobbies: When Ramya Doraisamy moved to South Korea from Bengaluru this year, her boys were devastated because they were leaving behind a large circle of good friends. One thing that did to cope was to keep reading their books. “Reading has been their anchor during this tough time,” Doraisamy says. “I am so glad we brought a truckload of books for them. They read new books and re-read some old favourites.” Also, most libraries, museums, and other community spaces can keep children engaged. Many of them host readings and activities for children and adults. Sign up for memberships in libraries, enrol in classes, and visit the local museums and sights. As for my recent move, when I could, I found every opportunity to get out of my house, even if it was just to the grocery stores. This simple change truly helped me turn a corner in a new city.

Seek support from local parent communities: Local communities and groups are great ways to find support. A friend who moved to a different country overcame her relocation anxiety by getting involved in church activities where she also got to meet new people. When I started a community of parents called Bangalore Schools on Facebook in 2012, I was a new to the city, and also a clueless young parent. It helped me connect and exchange notes with other parents in the city, and to not feel alone or scared about bringing up my child in an entirely unfamiliar place. I’d say, find a community in your new city or country — and if you cannot find one, create one. But with this move to Mumbai, I realised that schools and workplaces can offer huge support. A few days ago, I attended a parent support group session in my daughter’s new school and something inside me shifted. Suddenly, I saw other parents like me who went through the same struggles, many of them were new to the city and feeling adrift, just like me. Similarly, Moumita Rao, who relocated to Singapore seven years ago recalls how the first year was tough. “Even though I am someone who loved to make friends everywhere, I found myself in a bad space. Thankfully that year, my son’s school was running a program for parents to learn Mandarin and there, I made friends for life.”

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Spend time together, even as you find new friends: Doraisamy believes her children were getting too comfortable with their familiar life in Bengaluru and that the move to South Korea has brought on “positive changes” in how the kids are making new friends and “becoming self-reliant”. At the same time however, she adds that they “also spend tons of family time together. The ice cream in Seoul is unbelievable and we schedule a weekly ice cream date.” Recently, another friend told me that she and her daughter found a way to slowly overcome the anxiety of moving to a new place by talking about what lies ahead, and not focusing on what they left behind.

Find ways to move forward, make plans for the future, and do not let things or places hold you back. As a character from the popular television series Mad Men says, “When I'm out of sorts, I look at the calendar. There's usually something significant on the horizon.”

Here’s to keeping your calendars full and chase ice creams in unfamiliar places!

Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist who now lives in Mumbai

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