How Moving Can Trigger Depression in Children

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When it comes to moving, depression in your child may not be a concern that first comes to mind. However, some research shows that moving, especially the transition to a new school, may lead to depressive symptoms in a child.

This is, of course, only a possibility. Though research shows a connection between moving and depression in children, that doesn't mean that every child will be impacted by a move in this way.

You have to make decisions that are right for you and your family and that might just be making a move. Fortunately, there are a few things that you and other concerned parents can do to ensure a smooth transition for your child and a happy life in her new home.

Factors That May Impact Your Child When You Move

Sometimes the details of a move are non-negotiable, but if there is some flexibility in your situation, there are a few factors that can make the transition easier for your child.

Changing Schools

Whenever possible, keep your child at the same school or a school in the same district. Research has found that moving schools can be particularly difficult for children in the elementary and middle school years.

If your child has previously fallen behind academically, moving to a more advanced curriculum may overwhelm her — or even cause her to fall further behind. For a child, academic failure can be devastating to self-esteem. Low self-esteem is common among depressed children.

Changing schools often may have lasting effects on children. Research has found that kids who moved frequently have fewer quality relationships as adults. They also tend to have a less life satisfaction and lower overall well-being.

If Divorce Is the Reason for Your Move

If you are moving as the result of a divorce or other family restructuring, you will need to be especially sensitive to your child's needs and feelings. Your child will not only be adjusting to a new home and environment but a new family structure.

A move combined with a change in the family could be traumatic for a child and trigger feelings of insecurity, isolation or anger, which are often seen in depression. Keeping your child's routine, as much as possible, may help keep a sense of stability in her life.

Keeping Old Friends

While it is important for your child to make new friends in her new environment, it is also important for her to maintain old friendships. Allow your child to communicate and see her old friends whenever possible.

One study found that children who were introverted were more likely to experience lasting negative effects, possibly because introverted children have a more difficult time forming relationships, so moving creates major disruptions in close relationships.

The more relationships that your child has, the more she will feel supported and confident in her ability to make new friends. A child who has no peers to connect with may begin to withdraw from school and social activities.

Mental Health Concerns

Children who have had previous mental health illness, especially depression, are more likely to have another period of depression. Research suggests that moving is a significant life stressor for children. Moving schools can be as traumatic as having a parent hospitalized for a serious medical illness.

Some children, especially those with a past mental health illness, are prone to depression as a result of stress. Be on alert for signs and symptoms and consider speaking with your child's therapist about a care plan before you leave. You may also want to ask for a referral to a new provider in your new town.

How Parents Can be Proactive

Joining local groups and reaching out to new people will show your child that she is not alone in starting over. Allow your child to openly talk about her feelings about the move and be sympathetic to her fears. Also, be sure to not to let your own anxiety about the move scare your child.

If you know that your move will come with additional stressors, consider starting your child in counseling. This could be especially helpful if she has had past episodes of depression.

When It May Be Depression

Unfortunately for some children, the stress of a move may trigger symptoms of depression. As such, parents should be aware of the symptoms in children, which may include:

It is normal for a child to be nervous about a move. She may need more attention and reassurance for the first few weeks of the transition. She may even have a brief disturbance of sleep, which should return to normal without treatment in several days.

If you notice any symptoms of depression, new or unexplained behaviors in your child, it is important to consult with your child's physician. A physician can determine a cause and treatment, if appropriate. It is extremely important to identify and treat depression early in children.

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Article Sources

  • Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwisle, and Susan L. Dauber. Children in motion: School transfers and elementary school performance. Journal of Educational Research September. 1996; 90(1): 3-12.

  • Oishi, S., & Schimmack, U. Residential mobility, well-being, and mortality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010; 98(6): 980-994. doi: 10.1037/a0019389

  • Adjusting to Divorce. American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthy Children. 
  • Avshalom Caspi, Karen Sugden, Terrie E. Moffitt, Alan Taylor, Ian W. Craig, HonaLee Harrington, Joseph McClay, Jonathan Mill, Judy Martin, Anthony Braithwaite, Richie Poulton. "Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene." Science. 18 Jul 2003 301:386-389.
  • Helping Children Adjust to a Move. American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthy Children. 
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