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Best Time in the School Year
for Children to Move?

QUESTION: I have two fantastic kids. One is in first grade and the other in fourth grade. They do well in school and participate in many activities. After being in Michigan for twelve years, we are seriously considering moving to Oregon because of an employment opportunity. I think it would be best for them to finish the school year here in Michigan, but friends have told me that moving mid-year is best. When is the best time for a family move?

I definitely second your opinion. Summer represents a natural period of transition between grades and the perfect time to adjust to new surroundings and meet new friends. This timing allows your children to not only complete their respective classroom experiences together with their classmates, but time to adjust to changes one at a time instead of all at once!

Saying good-bye to classmates at the end of the year signals a natural time for departure. One adventure has ended and another one is about to begin. Likewise, starting a new school in a new grade next September echoes the experience of saying hello to strangers who can become friends. And there is the added advantage that not all children will already know one another prior to their arrival. They are able to begin at the beginning with their new classmates! How could this not be preferable to leaving in the middle of things and coming in the middle of things? Instinctively, you are leaning towards the natural cycles for adaptation that already exist in your children's lives.

Perhaps the people you have polled have tendencies towards repressing rather than midwiving family members through a healthy expression of feelings during periods of change. It is emotionally strengthening to help your children learn how to say good-bye and allow feelings of mourning to be expressed about people and places they have become attached to in their lifetimes. Failing to allow space for these emotions by catapulting them into immediate requirements to adjust will likely backfire. A common cause for difficulties in attaching to new places and people is the emotional backlash resulting from sudden change which allows no period of adjustment.

We are more likely to be overwhelmed if we are not allowed the time and space to process feelings inherent in letting go of places and people we have grown to love. Feelings that are shunted aside come back in hidden forms which may also be difficult to decipher. Angry outbursts, sudden tantrums and crying spells are often the result of people who have held it together under stress, only to "fall apart" later. In your case, your children to not have to be put under pressure to adapt. You have a choice to ease their transition and you should definitely take it! A shortcut approach to dealing with loss now will have reverberations later.

By taking provisions for a slower transition, you give your children the message that these people and places have been important in their lives and can be carried inside. Where your children have been and who they have played with, are all parts of your children's identities. Cutting them off precipitously in the midst of the school year can relay the message that these experiences of the past are to be "forever forgotten" rather than memories to be cherished!

It is natural for your children to experience both sadness and excitement about the move. Assist their adjustment process by having a farewell party at the end of the school year in each of their classrooms. This will allow your children to say their good-byes and accept appreciation from others who will miss them. Maintaining contact through letters or cards might also promote your children's adaptation. The summer is a natural time to embark on a new adventure. Support your children's participation in helping you with moving their toys and furniture. And encourage their sense of excitement about the new situation they are moving towards.

Rest assured that helping them say good-bye will allow them a greater capacity to say hello to new friends and places. Trust yourself, and do not shy away from the inevitable sad feelings you will all experience together. Honor the friendships you will leave by grieving for them. Your family closeness is the vessel which will carry you through many transitions in the years ahead. Sharing feelings is a part of the family journey.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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