Children's Friendships After a Move: Helping them Create New Friendships in a New School


We moved into a new town at the beginning of this school year when my daughter was entering 7th grade. She had a successful and happy life in elementary school in our old town, but things are changing and I’m worried. She is very athletic, smart enough, and good looking. But I can tell by her body language that she is terribly uncomfortable with herself. She has made some friends, although she isn’t always included in their activities. She is struggling with the junior high social scene, and her grades seem to be on a downward trend. I’ve read that middle-school girls sometimes elect not to appear smart in school because they would rather look “cool.”  How can I help her stay true to her own values and interests, and not be blown off course by this middle school social scene?


There are many possible explanations for your daughter’s current “struggle with the junior high scene.”  From my perspective, however, it seems that the most likely trigger for all this difficulty in her social and academic functioning was your family’s move to this new town. Moving is a major life event, and always carries with it an array of mixed emotions for the whole family.  Anyone who has ever endured a major family move can confirm that leaving all the familiarity, routines and “comforts of home” for a completely new environment – new house, new school, new friends, new daily patterns and new (un-established!!) routines, new EVERYTHING!! – is extremely difficult and it often takes most of the first year to begin to feel settled and “normal” again.  All these aspects of moving are true for children and adults, but they are likely to be exaggerated for middle school children because of their particular vulnerabilities in the areas of social and emotional development.   My friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Best Friends, Worst Enemies, speaks of middle school as being “the Bermuda triangle of education!”  In your question, you allude to an awareness of the awkwardness and difficulty your daughter is experiencing with “with the junior high social scene.”  That awkwardness is true for all middle school children, and it is even more awkward for those who arrive to an entirely new and unfamiliar 7th grade, without the routines and social connections that would have offset the expected difficulties in this transition.  Your daughter has had to leave all that was familiar, and has been starting all over again.  Even knowing whom to ask for help – which friends, which adults – can be confusing.  That your daughter is struggling with the social scene and is showing some decline in her academic performance is not surprising.  My guess is that your daughter misses her friends from last year, and has not yet established a “best friend” or group of friends who accept her and offer her a true sense of belonging and social buoyancy.  Without these social and emotional reassurances, your daughter is likely to be feeling lonely and isolated, unsure of herself and of her “sense of place” in this new town and school environment.

As a parent, your job is to help your daughter to shore up these key connections.  Here are some recommendations to consider in the coming weeks and months:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your daughter’s guidance counselor and/or her teachers.  Let them know some of her current struggle, and recruit them to help.
  2. Help your daughter to initiate get-together times with some of her new friends, if only to reinforce these developing relationships.  Friendships take time to develop, but trying to do some activities together may help.
  3. If your daughter’s emotional status declines even more, seek professional help by contacting a licensed mental health professional.  This may be a good idea NOW, if only to prevent this situation from getting worse.
  4. Consider allowing your daughter to return “home” for a visit with friends there – or invite one of her friends to come visit in this new home/school environment.  Re-connecting with “old friends” can be like re-fueling the tank, or re-charging the battery.
  5. Maximize this time YOU have with her.  While she is still developing new friends in this new town, your daughter may be more receptive to spending more time, and talking more openly with YOU!  Maximizing this time for your parent-child relationship will be like “relationship time in the bank.”  There may come a time in the not-too-distant-future when you daughter is spending less and less time with you…and you will need to have established or reinforced an essential relationship with her.  The closer she feels to you, and the more comfortable she is in talking with you about difficult issues, the more likely she is to remain connected to you, and to internalize your values, when her peers are tempting her to test your rules and limits.

Your goal is to help your daughter to re-create, in this new town, aspects of the “successful and happy life” she had in the old town.  While the move itself was a single event, the effects of that event have been many and varied, and at times, very painful.  “Unpacking” the many emotional and social effects, and adjusting to the new environment is a gradual process that usually takes many months, possibly a few years.  Be patient with these major changes.  Seek help where you can.  Keep talking with each other about how this major transition is going – labeling the positive and the negative aspects of the whole experience.  Lean on each other for guidance and support, and maximize this opportunity to strengthen essential family connections.

Your daughter’s struggles are to be expected, given this major life transition for the whole family.  Seen through another lens, your daughter may be seen as resilient, and as coping pretty well with one of life’s most difficult transitions.  Talk openly with her about all of this, give her the added support she needs, and chart her gradual progress…..and keep the communication alive and open between her and you.


Good luck!

David L. Gleason, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist