It’s been decided. Yours will be among the 1 in 5 American families to move this year.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ton of details. It’s inviting to skip right over whatever feelings of anxiety and loss you may be experiencing. Whether excited or saddened, you might just as soon go into an altered state until the chaos of moving is over.
But if you have children, none of those ways of coping is an option. Children require whatever stability we can give them. Children require play-by-play explanations and day-by-day reassurance. Children, being children, need us to be grownups, especially when a big change is going on.
So how can adults make a move easier on the kids? By being actively involved and by involving them.
Tell children as soon as you know for sure that you are moving. Kids know when there are secrets. Kids worry when they sense that the adults around them are upset or unsettled. When kept in the dark, what they imagine is going on is usually far worse than the reality of a move. Tell them in age-appropriate language that the family is moving. There are many kids’ books available to give you a hand. Having some time to get used to the idea will make the transition easier.
Feelings are complicated. It’s okay to let kids know if you are sad about moving. It lets them be sad too. It’s okay to talk about the people and places you will all miss. That’s only real. But it’s important that you find ways to cope with whatever negative feelings you may have. Your kids’ stability depends on you. If you can be generally calm, they will take your lead. If you find ways to be excited, they will pick up on those feelings too.
Involve the kids as much as you can. Most towns now have a community web page. Invite the kids to take a look with you. House hunting? Share pictures of possible apartment buildings or houses. Talk about what you are looking for. Once you have decided on a new home, take kids for a visit if it is possible. Bring back pictures if it’s not. And don’t forget to bring back pictures of the daycare center or school your child will be attending. Knowing where they will spend their days is as important to children as it is to you.
It’s tempting to use packing up a house as a time to purge unwanted belongings or replace worn-out items with new things for the new house. It’s fine to do that with your own stuff. But young children often are attached to that broken doll, that shabby blanket, or the child’s bed they have almost outgrown. Especially with children ages 2 to 7, it’s usually better to keep their familiar things and sort them out well after a move. They need the familiar to feel that all is right with the world. A happier kid is more important than a better bed or a new blanket.
Packing with children underfoot can be frustrating. But young children do better if they have some control over at least their favorite things. Spend some time together packing a box of their most treasured items. Make sure that box is available to be opened right away when you get to the new place. Once they understand what packing is about and that their most special possessions won’t be left behind, they will be less upset if you do the rest of the packing while they are at the babysitter’s or at school.
Children as young as 3 to 4 often have playmates who are important to them. Think about how to help your children say goodbye. Perhaps help them make a picture book of friends’ photos or their own drawings. Older children often appreciate having a notebook for recording phone numbers and email addresses.
Meanwhile, maintain routines as much as you can. Even though you may be surrounded by the mess called packing, dinnertime and bedtime rituals can stay the same. Children thrive on predictable things happening at usual times. You may find that it helps you feel less scattered as well.
Find ways for the children to claim ownership of their new surroundings. If you’re going to paint their new bedroom, give them some color choices. Let them help you decide how furniture should be placed and which pictures should go where. Let go of control for now. You can always move the chair to where you really want it another day. “Nesting” together will help your kids get comfortable.
Reestablish routines as quickly as possible. The place will feel more like home if the rhythms of family life go on as before.
Talk to their schools ahead of time to see what they usually do to welcome new kids. Let your kids know that you understand it’s tough to be the new kid but you have confidence in them. Have a conversation with them about what they think might help them feel confident the first day. They may not really need new jeans, for example. But if having a new pair of jeans lets a kid feel cool on that first day, it may be worth the price. If your child is in elementary school or younger, make time to go with your child the first day. Even better, go after school is out the day before. It will help your children and you get acclimated if there is time to explore the classroom and meet the teacher.
Help your kids ease into the social scene. Arrange a playdate on the playground with another parent as soon as you can. You may find that you get a friend out of it too. With older children, the most important thing they can do is join something — a sports team, the school band, Scouts, a church group — as soon as possible. This gives them an immediate group. Having an activity to focus on takes some of the pressure off meeting new kids and fitting in. Meeting other parents also will help you begin to know your new community.
Knowing the territory is a basic need of all creatures. We’re no different. Take time to explore your new surroundings. Take walks with the kids to familiarize them, and you, with the area immediately around your new home. Take them on a drive around town and point out landmarks. If there is a playground or special park, spend a little time there too.
Don’t forget that the move is a major change for your kids and they may react in unexpected and uncharacteristic ways. Some kids get irritable. Some seem to regress. The child who proudly gave up his pacifier or blanket 6 months ago now cries for them. The kid who was doing so well in first grade before now seems stuck. The third grader who couldn’t wait to leave in the morning now lingers with you and has “stomachaches.” Some older kids seem to do fine in the initial months after a move, then seemingly out of the blue, have a major meltdown. Make room for feelings. Take time to listen and to reassure and to help them solve their problems. Each kid’s adjustment will happen at his or her own pace. With support, reassurance, and practical help from you, they will do fine.
Don’t forget that the move is a major change for you as well. You may find that you feel disoriented or irritable or upset at unexpected times. This isn’t at all unusual. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your feelings and call a friend or talk with your partner. It’s fine to tell the kids every now and then that you miss a friend or you wish you could visit your old neighborhood. What’s important is that you then refocus the conversation to what you are doing to feel better. If you find after the first month or so that you are feeling stuck in a fairly consistent depressed or overly anxious mood, do consider getting some professional help as well. You are your children’s anchor. They need you to be a positive role model for managing change.
Other Articles on Children & Moving
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2008). Moving with Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2008/moving-with-kids/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.