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Moving with Kids

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.

Saying Goodbye

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.

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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.

Moving with Kids

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Moving with Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.