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The Trauma of Moving
Q: My 11-year-old son has been expressing sadness and anger over our move 4 months ago. He doesn't feel he fits in with peers in school and around the neighborhood. He also doesn't like his new school or his teacher. He has been crying frequently and today he refused to go to school. I'm worried he's becoming depressed. He was very happy and had many friends with similar interests in our old neighborhood. He doesn't seem to hold the same "status" that he did at his other school -- he was very secure and well-liked. How can I help him adjust to the new school and the neighborhood?
A: A move such as yours is a loss to a child, just as much as a death in the family would be. Your son is dealing with the loss of his old school (where he was popular), his old friends, his old house, and everything else he left behind.
Has your son been able to keep in touch with old friends? Writing letters or emails, phoning old friends, and going back to visit or inviting them to visit you can help with the adjustment.
Try to help your son find friends with similar interests in your new community. Joining a Boy Scout troop, a soccer team, a drama group, or some other group that interests your son can help him feel more comfortable. Even if the new friends he makes go to other schools, once he begins to connect socially he will feel better about things. Making friends at his school and in the neighborhood will be easier as well.
You can also invite children from your new neighborhood over to play, to go to a movie with you and your son, or to stay at your house for a sleepover. It may be hard for your son to make this first move, but once he gets to know the other kids on his own turf and they get to know him, becoming friends will be easier.
Talk with the school counselor. He or she may offer a small group for new kids in the school to help them get to know each other. The counselor may also be able to give your son some support at school during the day and help him connect with other kids with similar interests.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.