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Currently living in California with a 6yo (Kindergartener). At some point in the next 2-3 years we will need to move to a different city, possibly a different state. Our kid is shy and sensitive. What age would you say making such changes becomes harder and traumatic for kids? I'm sure changes can be traumatic at any age depending on the child / situation, just looking for a rule of thumb as for at which age changing environment / friends starts to be especially hard.

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I can't really put an age to when moving away from their friends will be more or less troublesome for a child. That depends too much on the specific child.

On the other hand, there are some natural points in the life of a child where they need to make new friends. That is when they go to a new school, for example when they start primary school.

I am not familiar with the school system in the US, but if you can time your move with the moment that your child goes from kindergarten to primary school (and those would normally be different schools), then I believe that can lessen the impact of moving to a different city.

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  • Here in Canada, kindergarten classes are normally taught in the same building as primary school. I assume that the US system is the same. Nov 23 at 3:34
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Obviously this depends on the child and the circumstances, but most 6 year olds will adapt to this quite quickly. At that age most kids have the same interests and relationships are not overly complicated. Most of their day to day social life still happens within the family.

Things get more difficult as kids get older, especially during or post puberty where real girl/boy friends are involved and peers become more and more socially important.

One of our sons had to change to a different class when he was 5 or 6 and wasn't happy about. On Day 1 he broke into tears. One of the other kids went over, gave him a hug and told "I take care of you". From that day on they were best friends until puberty hit. On Day 2 he was happily settled in.

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In general it is more easy when they are small. They live a day-by-day live, and do not plan the next week.

And for us it was also important to not have another breakpoint near the movement, as changing teachers (from kindergarden to school).

My son was 5 when we moved 1500km through Europe. We choose a kindergarden with school in the same building, so he was able to stay there after changing from kindergarden to school.

Also we tried strategies to make it as easy as possible. We took his bed with him (a bunkbed he loved to build caves out of blankets) as "his very own and familiar room". We asked our best friends to make one page of paper with a photo of them and some wishes and greeting. So we got a booklet of our friends to take with us. When we felt sad, we were able to have a look into. I added his favourite playgrounds. We did not look often, but it seemed to be a calming feeling for my son, to "have his friends in the bookshelf", he talked a lots about this book in the beginning.

Also he packed one box for moving with the most important stuff on his own (supervised). This box was last to be closed and first to be opened. So he was able to have this things as long and as early as possible.

For us it was clear, as expats, we will stay some years and then come back to our native country. For my son it seemed to be important in the beginning, to come back in this one city where we came from. I did not discuss this. Even if it was not clear and now it turned out, we will not return in this one city. But to remember him about this uncertain way back, would have added more worry to him settling in.

By the way, he did not know the language at school, he did not know any person there, nobody at school spoke his language. But there was one child, taking his hand when he entered the room first time, saying "Friday you can bring a toy to class". I translated and my son was happy (not this much about the toy, but because he was welcomed and part of the class at once).

I decided to let him have short days in the beginning (flexible in first weeks), collecting him at lunch time (all other kids stayed until late afternoon). But at the very first day he was sad to leave them and begged me to stay the whole time from the second day on. The last day of the first week he even started to beg to use the school's bus service. (Remember he was not able to speak with anyone...)

So what I learned: Even a 5 year old, can decide over it's own pace. I gave him some "constraints" (what was possible for me to do or not, ie. because of work, ie. it was clear at some point he will use the bus, but I had planned 4 weeks for transition). And: I am much longer nervous than my child. Not much more, but he still "forgets about it".

Now he is 8 years old and we prepare to go back. It seems to be as challanging as it was to come here. Even if he will speak the same language as all other kids at the new school. But it seems he is more aware now, what it really means to left people behind. One part because he understands and imagines more in general now, the other part because he got experience in this field.

Now he asks about sports he likes, and if it will be possible to continue this at the new place. Now he is more in planning than 3 years before.

And he wished for Christmas "to see all his friends again". The old ones from kindergarden at our home counrty and the new ones from school in the expat country when we will have moved. Hard challange...

In the end for me the key was to give all of our family some room to "grief" and to be sad about leaving all behind. Each member did it at another time, in another way (and when my son became/becomes sad, it is most time enough for him, I agree "Yes, I am sad too"). And even now, when we will "come back home" it does not feel simple good, but feels like leaving again.

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