Growing up, I was lucky to live in the same town from my first day of pre-school through my high school graduation. I remember welcoming new students in middle school and high school and thinking how brave they were, and how stressful starting from scratch must be. I'm thankful for the stability my parents provided, and desperately hope I can give my children the same. Turns out, there is some science behind this. These five things that happen in your kid's brain when you move can have real, long-lasting effects on your child's life, long past childhood.
Keep in mind that it's difficult to study the black and white effects of childhood relocation simply because it's so hard to isolate factors. For example, many families relocate after a divorce, a death, or a job loss – life-changing events that can change a child's outcome with or without a move. Conversely, some moves can bring benefits that outweigh the risks. The Washington Post writes, "The benefits of moving from a bad neighborhood to a good one, even during early adolescence, probably far outweigh the risks associated with the move itself. Similar for moves that involve, say, a much higher-paying job."
The effects of moving as a child have been studied extensively, across variables like socioeconomic status, circumstances, and so on, and the experience can affect your child long after the boxes are unpacked, and while it may seem like the hardest thing for your kid to go through, there's usually a silver lining — it just might take some time to find it.
1. Their brain can become more sensitive to stress.
Dr. Swaran Singh, a psychiatrist and head of the mental health division at the Warwick Medical School in the U.K, has been specifically interested in learning how changing schools can affect a child. Dr. Singh, along with a team, conducted research on a database of nearly 14,000 children from birth to age 13, and spoke to Time about their findings.
“Repeated experiences of being defeated in social situations leads to changes in the brain and in the dopaminergic system," said Dr. Singh. Time elaborates, "That makes the brain more sensitive to stress, and stress, with its surges of cortisol, can lead to unhealthy neural responses that can contribute to mental health problems."
2. They may have a higher risk of violence
In a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researcher Roger Webb and colleagues studied a whopping 1,475,030 people born in Denmark between 1971 through 1997. They followed these people from their 15th birthdays until their early forties, collecting information about moves from their birth until age 14.
One of the most alarming things that Webb and his colleagues noted was an elevated risk of suicide among people who had moved during their childhood, with "a sharp spike in risk linked with multiple moves in a year during early/mid-adolescence."
Additionally, researchers found that there was also an increased risk of violence toward others among children who moved during their childhood. This risk increased with the number of moves a child experienced.
3. It can improve their social skills & mental state
It's not all bad. As previously mentioned, sometimes moving to a new place is a good opportunity for the family. If the move is positive for the financial, social, or mental health of the parents, this in itself can have significant positive effects on their brain functioning as it relates to the child, which in turn improves the child’s socialization, stress and emotion regulation, and overall well-being.
Christine Carter, Ph.D, is the author of the book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. In her book she states, "Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and 'negative outcomes' in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective." In other words, if a move is beneficial to a parent's mental state, those benefits often rub off on the child.
4. There may be more prone to substance abuse
In the same Denmark study done by Webb and colleagues, they found that children who moved during their first 14 years had an increased risk of substance abuse issues later in life. This risk was particularly elevated if the moves occurred when the child was in the older end of that window (specifically, 12 to 14 years old), and the risk increased with each separate move.
Of all the risk factors that Webb and his colleagues studied, the risk for substance abuse was the most dramatically elevated. "The observed associations for substance misuse were of a greater strength than they were for any psychiatric disorder," states their study.
5. It can affect their self-esteem
It is hard enough being a child trying to find your place in your family, your school, and the world. It's even harder when you're starting from square one in a new place, trying to make new friends and figure out where you belong.
According to the aforementioned Time article, "Singh suspects that repeatedly being an outsider by having to re-integrate into new schools may lead to feelings of exclusion and low self-esteem. That may change a developing child’s sense of self and prime him to always feel like an outlier and never an integrated part of a social network...."
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.