Moving in Childhood, Misery in Adulthood

Moving to a new house can be pretty exciting. It’s a chance to start over, a chance to let go of things that have been holding you back, a chance to de-clutter, both physically and emotionally. It might be stressful, but as adults the decision was probably made as a result of the positives outweighing the negatives, and the transient stress involved probably doesn’t matter as much. For children however, the consequences are significantly worse. Several studies regarding the effect of moving houses on children’s health and behavior have been conducted and their resultant data published in reputed journals. The main conclusions drawn from these studies are as follows (conclusions mentioned were drawn from some cases):

The adverse effects of moving house in childhood are both cognitive and behavioral (in some cases). These effects include decreased performance in school, increase in depressive behavior and suicidal tendencies, increased affinity to violence and violent behavior (either self-directed or interpersonal), social isolation, substance abuse and even psychiatric illness.

The risk of adverse effects was highest in the adolescent age group. This age group is specifically between the ages of 12 and 14 years. Not only was the risk increased but the severity of the adversities were also higher. The risk of suicide increased with increasing age during which the moves occurred peaking in adolescence. Suicidal behavior was especially marked in those with multiple documented moves during the early adolescent years.

The risk increases with an increase in the frequency of moves. This trend was constant for any given age group. In comparison to those who moved once, those who moved multiple times within a single year had a higher risk for displaying aggressive behavior and committing violent offenses.

The risk is higher in children who are natural introverts. These children who are intrinsically shy are more sensitive to the effects of moving houses and therefore are more significantly affected. These children are more likely to grow up into unhappy adults, with fewer friends.

When moving as adults we focus more on the positive and practical aspects of the move. We think about what we stand to gain. For children however the focus is on what they stand to lose, such as friends and a familiar environment. Additionally they feel helpless, since they usually have no say in the move. This is particularly worrisome during the adolescent period as children at this age are expected to start developing longstanding relationships with their peers outside the family and tend to become emotionally detached from parents.

Although there is no best way to tackle the problem of how to prepare and protect children during an inevitable move there may be a couple of steps that may be taken to aid the transition. The best thing to do is to involve the child from the start of the process. Take them to the prospective locations, ask them what they think and encourage them to talk about any concerns they might have. Give them lots of information about the new place and try to simulate activities that can be done in the new surroundings. Most importantly keep having repeated discussions about moving so that they are adequately mentally prepared for the move rather than having it come as a sudden surprise event. The best option if available though is staying put for as long as you have children in your household.

Meghna Nambakkam

Fourth Year Medical Student, SRMMCHRC

Bridging Passion and Compassion.