The moving process can be stressful – even for young children. There’s disruption to their routine, possibly strangers coming in and out of the house (real estate agents, home buyers, moving people), and their belongings are disappearing into boxes. Older children have to say goodbye to friends and possibly even family, deal with changing schools, and leave familiar and comfortable surroundings. So, how can you help your child before, during, and after a move to help him or her adjust?
Before the Move
If your children are old enough to understand, start a dialogue with them. Explain the reasons for the upcoming move and let them know it is okay to ask questions and express their feelings. Assure them that their best friends can come visit during school breaks and that you will make trips back to visit friends and family.
Gather all important documents. Visit the pediatrician’s office and get your child’s medical records, especially their immunization records – you’ll need those when enrolling your child in their new school. Be sure you have birth certificates, social security cards, and school records such as transcripts and report cards.
If possible, plan a visit! Take your child for a quick tour – visit the area schools, the local parks, potential neighborhoods, and maybe even tour a home (or apartment) or two. This will help build a little excitement about the move and remove some of the fears of moving somewhere unfamiliar. And, it will make your child feel like part of the process, which will make the transition easier for him.
Start a scrapbook. Gather pictures and mementos from your child’s friends, teachers, and family members. Ask them to write quick notes to your child to include in the scrapbook. This will help ease your child’s homesickness after you move and will be a cherished keepsake long after he settles in to his new home.
Have a party! Before the move, schedule a going-away celebration so friends and family can say goodbye.
During the Move:
Pack your child’s room last. The last thing you want is a bored child with no toys because they are all packed away. When you do start packing your child’s room, be sure to let him or her help! Keep a backpack or duffel bag and let your child choose toys to keep with him or her – a favorite stuffed animal, a gaming device, dolls, etc. This will go in the car (or on the plane) with him so he will have some familiar items both for comfort and to keep him busy during the trip.
Even little ones can help! Allow your children to help you pack non-breakables. It will help them feel part of the process and they will be able to spend time with you, asking questions about the move and your new home.
Don’t overdo it! You have a house to pack, a move to plan, and kids to care for. Be sure to take time to unwind and relax – otherwise you may find yourself short-tempered and overwhelmed. Take it slow and be sure to take several breaks during the day.
Keep your child’s routine as normal as possible. Mealtimes should be as close to normal as possible, maintain bedtime routines and schedules, and keep him involved in his extra-curricular activities such as sports or playgroups.
After the Move:
Get familiar with the neighborhood. Soon after the move, start exploring. Go for walks, meet your neighbors, find local parks, etc. If there are children the same age as your child in the neighborhood, try to schedule a play-date before school starts – this way, your child will see some familiar faces when that first day rolls around.
Enroll your child in familiar activities. If your child played sports, took music or dance lessons, or belonged to a group or club, find the local equivalent and get them enrolled. They’ll appreciate the familiar routine and make new friends.
Don’t discard too much. You may want a fresh start in your new home, but keep a few familiar items – hang some of the same photographs on the walls, set out familiar trinkets or mementos, and keep your child’s bedroom furniture – even if he could really use a new set – at least for the first few months until he is settled in the new location.
Let your child participate. If they are old enough, take them with you when choosing wallpaper, paint colors, and flooring. Allow them to help select the wallpaper or paint for their room. It will go a long way to make them feel a part of the moving process and will help them adjust much faster.
Discuss the similarities and differences between your old home and the new one, and be honest. If your child knows you prefer the old kitchen layout to the new one, for example, he may feel comfortable sharing his own feelings about the move.
Moving is a stressful time for everyone, but your child should adjust quickly to his or her new surroundings. Expect a few setbacks – your newly potty-trained toddler may suddenly begin having “accidents,” for example, or your preschooler may have a few temper tantrums. But by making the move a family event that everyone participates in, the setbacks should be minor.