World

Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids

I know from experience what happens when children face moving, divorce, or other stressful life change—and how we can help them.

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When I was 13 years old and living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a friend’s mom was driving me home from school one evening. She asked, “Jess, tell me how to get to your house?” It was a simple enough question that most 13-year-olds can answer easily. But I was lost. I didn’t know a single thing about the city I was living in at the time—not a landmark, not a street name. I gambled and pointed, “Go that way.” Somehow I made it back to our rental home that night.

Now as an adult, I see with more clarity the debilitating fear that I felt in that moment. I was the poster child for generalized anxiety disorder. By the time I was 14, I had moved 12 times around the world. My father, Rick Marshall, was the director of North American crusades for Billy Graham, and he and his team arranged every logistical aspect of Graham’s evangelical meetings. That meant my family and I moved cities (and sometimes countries) every year. We spent one year in a city, at the end of which Billy Graham would come and preach the gospel to thousands.

When that week ended, so did my time in that city. The packing boxes got loaded up on the moving truck, I said quick, tearful goodbyes to brand-new friendships, and we were off again—off to a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new school. Of the four children in my family, I struggled most with this transitory lifestyle, and my struggle manifested as terrible anxiety.

Most kids don’t move as often as I did, but nonetheless, any move at all can trigger anxiety in kids. The psychological fallout is well documented. In 2010, The New York Times synthesized studies by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and reported that “moves in …

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