Any loss of an important figure in a child’s life can affect her; this includes a grandparent's move. The degree of the move's effects often depends on the child’s age, her personality, her relationship with her grandparents and how the family handles the move. If a child is close to her grandparents, preparing her well in advance can help mitigate the negative emotional impact.
If children see their grandparents infrequently or have strained relationships with them, the move may have few effects on their day-to-day lives. That said, even with distant grandparent relationships, children may still experience feelings of loss at holidays and other special occasions. For children who see their grandparents regularly, the emotional effects can be more serious. These children may experience tearfulness, withdrawal or feelings of abandonment. In some cases, children might experience feelings of depression or anxiety that interfere with their school work and socialization.
Some children adapt to change more easily than others. If a child is good with change, he may adapt to his grandparents' move quickly, even if he formerly had a close relationship with them. For children who do not handle changes well, parents may need to be proactive and make plans for phone calls, emails or visits in advance of the move. This can provide additional reassurance to the child that his grandparents will still be a part of his life even though they moved away. In cases where the child’s grandparents are not accessible and the child experiences distress, it may be helpful for the child to talk through feelings of loss with parents or a counselor.
For many families, grandparents are an essential part of the parental support system. Whether they care for the children after school or simply provide the parents with moral support, the grandparents' move can place additional stress on mothers and fathers. This additional stress on the parents can affect children, who might pick up on their parents' stress while having to adapt to changes to the extended family structure.
Preparing a Child for the Move
It is often helpful to prepare children for their grandparents’ move as far in advance as possible. This might include sitting down with the grandparents and talking about the move and what that will mean for the child. Young children and children who are strongly attached to their grandparents may need explicit verbal reassurance that their grandparents still love them and will remain in their lives, even if they are no longer living nearby. Additionally, Sherron Killingsworth Roberts and Patricia A. Crawford of National Association for the Education of Young Children recommend using books on family changes and loss to help children learn new coping skills and normalize their experiences.
Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.