Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A moving issue

Hi all, apologies for the lack of recent blogging activity. Let's just say I've been having a rough time… but the upside is that I have been seeing a lot of my boys and – however much of a cliche it is – realising what's really important.

Whatever happens we are stronger than ever as a family, but as a Dad I'm having to deal with the impact of uncertainty on my two sons, aged 9 and 7. This came to a head last night with my 9-year-old in floods of tears at 10pm over the possibility that we might have to move away from the area. 'I'm scared', he kept repeating… 'I love Leicester' (somebody's got to), 'I don't want to leave'.

There's not much I can say in response other than whatever happens we'll be strong. But it got me thinking: what research is there out there concerning the impact of moving on children: psychologically, socially, and in health terms?

Anecdotally, everyone I speak to says that for children home is where their parents are, and they will quickly adjust and even completely forget their old neighbourhood. They make new friends, join new clubs, life goes on. But does the empirical evidence back up this rosy account?

There seems little doubt that the impact on children is as varied as their personalities. One study finds, unsurprisingly, that the social impact is greater on the introverted or neurotic child. Other research considers age at the time of the move: this study suggests that moving house more than twice during the first two years of life is associated with greater internalising problems (actions directed towards the self, such as depression and anxiety) at age nine years. There was no association between increased residential mobility in other time periods and internalising behaviour, or mobility in any period and externalising behaviour (such as aggression towards others). There was no effect of lifetime number of moves, or of an upwardly or downwardly mobile housing trajectory. However, continuously renting a house was associated with an increased externalising behaviour score. 
Home is where your parents are?

Other research suggests moving could be particularly stressful for adolescent girls, I would presume due to the intensity of the friendship bonds at that time. Perhaps this effect is lessening as it becomes easier to keep in touch… my guess would be that the vast majority of childhood friends lose touch completely within two years, however easy it would be in technological terms to maintain the relationship. 

Some research, for example this study, considers unusual health effects, finding that moving house is associated with the subsequent development in childhood asthma, possibly due to exposure to new allergens or stress. I'm fine with that as my eldest is already allergic to everything, and my youngest is altogether more robust.

The Daily Mail, very much a 'glass half empty' kind of publication, suggests that moving regularly in childhood is linked to dying younger. The NHS Choices website has a much more reasoned take on what I think is the same research, concluding that a higher risk of poor health outcomes is associated with frequent moves in childhood, but that the only significant association related to illegal drug use and that the reasons for the move (e.g. financial problems or seeking a better job) are clearly important.
Then I came across a study linking frequent moves to an increase in attempted suicide, and I thought I'd stop looking! But it's important to emphasise that's frequent moves rather than a single change. And I suspect that it's difficult to research the impact of moving on children as there tend to be so many other factors involved: often a marriage break-up, a change in income status etc etc, so it's not just about the effect of a new neighbourhood, school and friends (which in itself is quite a lot of factors). 

There's a fair amount of advice out there, most of it emphasising communication and some kind of bridge between the two homes. But as ever, it's useful to back up the data and existing advice with personal experience, so I would love to hear of any more research but also the thoughts and experiences of my readers on this topic. 

In particular, I would like to hear from Dads. Some academics suggest that moving is more stressful for women, but what are the particular considerations for men? How do other Dads out there juggle the responsibilities of (often) being the main breadwinner (therefore going where the work is) with a strong wish for stability for their children (therefore staying put)? I imagine this can lead to personal compromise… but then that's what being 'we' rather than 'I' is often about.