Moving and Depression in Children

How to help kids cope with relocation

Young boy looking out rainy car window

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

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 can do to ensure a smooth transition for your child and happy life in your 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 them—or even cause them 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 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 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 to your child's current routine, as much as possible, may help keep a sense of stability in their life.

Keeping Old Friends

While it is important for your child to make new friends in their new environment, it is also important for them to maintain old friendships. Allow your child to communicate and see their 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 and moving creates major disruptions in close relationships.

The more relationships that your child has, the more they will feel supported and confident in their 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 concerns, 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 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

Not all children become depressed with a move, but you can help minimize the risk. Here are a few strategies:

  • Include your child when you discuss your plans. Show them photos of the new house and information about the new area. Walk them through it using Street View in Google Maps or Look Around in Apple Maps. Explain why the move is happening (new job, better schools, etc.).
  • Empower them with age-appropriate decisions such as how to decorate their bedroom, where to put the swingset, what to plant in the garden, etc.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Be sympathetic to their fears, and try not to let your own anxiety add to them.
  • Validate their feelings. For example, if your child expresses sadness, you might say, "It seems like you'll really miss our house. I will, too. It's OK and totally understandable to feel that way."
  • Encourage your child to join groups such as school clubs and sports teams. This can help them make new friends, nurture longstanding interests, and develop new ones. Bonus: You'll likely make new friends among the parents, too.
  • Point out what will stay the same. You might remind them that their pets are coming, too, or that they'll still have their toys, favorite pillow, bedroom furniture—anything that helps them understand that this is not an end, but a transition.
  • Remind them that they can still stay in touch with faraway friends. Phone and video calls (supervised for safety, of course) mean they're always close by in a virtual sense.
  • Spend as much time with your child as you can. This can help reassure them and provide a sense of constancy in their changing world. Plus, it allows ample opportunity for discussion.

If you know that your move will come with additional stressors, consider starting your child in counseling. This could be especially helpful if they've experienced 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 signs in children, which may include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Unexplained crying
  • Clinging to a parent
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of interest in things of former interest
  • Academic decline
  • Thoughts or actions of self-harm
  • Persistent unexplained physical complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches)
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Sleeping problems

It is normal for a child to be nervous about a move. They may need more attention and reassurance for the first few weeks of the transition. They 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 or 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.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, you also can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Moving can be stressful and even traumatic for kids. They don't yet have the experience and maturity to deal with a change that's big enough to upset even adults. Be on the lookout for signs of depression, and get professional help promptly if you suspect it's developing.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Oishi S, Schimmack U. Residential mobility, well-being, and mortality. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010;98(6):980-94. doi:10.1037/a0019389

  2. Alexander KL, Entwisle DR, Dauber SL. Children in motion: School transfers and elementary school performanceJournal of Educational Research. 1996; 90(1):3-12. doi:10.1080/00220671.1996.9944438

Additional Reading

By Lauren DiMaria
Lauren DiMaria is a member of the Society of Clinical Research Associates and childhood psychology expert.