How to Tell a Foster Child They Are Moving

By Willow Breckenridge | Jun 9, 2021

Foster children have unique needs that you need to keep in mind when your family goes through significant life changes — like moving to a new home. Such transitions can trigger deep-seated fears of abandonment that result in considerable stress for your child and potentially cause behavioral difficulties. 

 If you decide to change houses when you have a foster child, you need to approach the shift with sensitivity and tact. Here are seven tips for how to tell a foster child that they are moving. 

1. Be Sensitive

If your lifelong goal involved moving out of a rental and into a home you purchased, you might be over the moon at the prospect of the upcoming change. However, you have to remember that your foster child might not feel the same way. 

Since your foster children are considered wards of the state, you won’t be able to cross that boundary minus an exception. However, your move could take your child away from other members of their support system, like their teachers and friends at school. If they have a particular counselor or aide whom they trust, it could feel like losing a second “parent” all over again. 

You do want to share your enthusiasm. With that in mind, you probably don’t want to break the news over a celebratory dinner — let your foster child know in private first. Doing so helps them regulate their emotional reactions and shows you respect their feelings. 

2. Be Positive 

You know that nobody likes a negative Nancy, but you have to be extra positive when you have children. Even if your move stems from less-than-ideal circumstances like a change in employment, muster your enthusiasm when breaking the news. 

Children need time to adapt to changes, and foster children require more than most due to abandonment concerns. Plan small rituals such as having parties with their friends and design ways for them to keep in touch. Help them amass an address book of phone numbers and email addresses to maintain contact — you could even plan your first playdate visit.

Give them a sense of control whenever possible. For example, if you have more than one school to choose from, ask your foster child for their input. Providing a sense of control over their fate helps ease the extreme anxiety many feel. 

3. Be Validating 

All foster children have endured trauma — the separation from the birth family alone causes psychological stress, even when it’s best for everyone involved. Many haven’t had consistent adult involvement to validate their feelings and teach them healthy processing behaviors. 

Encourage your foster child to express their feelings. Help them identify them using an emotional chart and practice healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise and meditation to adapt to changes. 

4. Be Proactive 

Imagine your boss decided to transfer you to Dubai. Would you appreciate it more if they gave you ample time to plan and pack or give you only a day or two to grab your things and go? 

Your foster child deserves the same time to adjust to this considerable change. Break the news as soon as you know for sure so that they have time to digest the information and become more comfortable with the idea. 

5. Be Diplomatic

Your foster child might feel like their lives depend on the whims of others. That lack of ownership and agency causes considerable psychological distress. It can even result in learned helplessness when children perceive they can do nothing to change an unpleasant situation. 

The solution? Give your children choices as much as possible. Let them pick out their room and choose school supplies for their new classroom. When making travel arrangements, ask for their input on where to stay. 

6. Be Prepared 

Moving is one of life’s most stressful events, even if you don’t have children. Create a checklist to help you remember to dot all your I’s. 

Pay particular attention to your foster children’s belongings. Many have lost everything over the years — ensure that their favorite comfort object doesn’t get left behind. 

7. Be Present 

Understand that moving will probably trigger your stepchild’s abandonment fears. Some react by withdrawing, and others may become more clingy. 

Normalize your child’s fears by letting them know that their feelings are natural. Help them to work through them by keeping up with therapy appointments and avoid saying unhelpful and invalidating phrases like, “It could be worse.” 

Gently Tell a Foster Child They Are Moving With These Tips 

You might struggle with how to tell a foster child they are moving because you know the trauma they’ve already experienced. The seven tips above can make the process less painful. 

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