There are many reasons why families move from one home to another. Change of location for employment, separation or divorce, expansion of the household or the desire to be near extended family members are common motives behind a move. Another possible reason for a move is a change in financial situation: having a tighter or looser budget can prompt the desire to go house-hunting. Sometimes people move in order to change neighborhoods, looking for safer areas, or areas with more similar cultural or religious values, or areas that are more family-oriented. No matter what the reason for a move, the project itself is always challenging. Financial cost, physical efforts and psychological stress all make moving a serious undertaking for adults.
Moving with Kids
Just as moving is stressful for parents, the many changes that come with going from one home to another can take its toll on children. A child’s attachment to a home goes beyond liking the physical structure of a house. There’s also the many roots a child has made in a particular place. Moving means saying goodbye to friends and playmates, transferring to another school, maybe even adjusting to new weather conditions. In the case of divorce or separation, moving also means a new distance from a loved and cherished parent.
How can parents help ease their children into the transitions that come with changing residence? Consider the following tips:
Don’t Blindside Your Child with a Move
As with all changes, adjustment is better when there’s minimal shock. Even before making the decision to move, sit down with your child and discuss the idea of moving. Gauge how much resistance he has to the prospect and where his feelings are coming from. Use emotional coaching (the naming of feelings) to show acceptance and understanding of your child’s reaction. “Yes, it can be very upsetting to have to leave your friends,” or “Yes, I know you love this house so much,” or “Yes, it would be a bit scary to have to start a new school.” DO NOT “undo” your emotional coaching by then trying to talk your child out of his feelings. Instead, just acknowledge the feelings and stop talking. This gives your child the space he needs to reassure himself. If you don’t say another word, the child will often continue the conversation saying things like, “but maybe we’ll have an even nicer house” and so forth. Even if the child doesn’t say anything right now, it’s fine. He needs time to process the information and mourn his losses. You don’t want to rob him of this important work by trying to cheer him up. When the child sees that you are moving regardless of any objections he may have, he will help himself to make the necessary adjustment.
For very young children, help prepare them for a move by reading story-books on the subject of moving. Your local librarian can help you select age-appropriate materials that explain and illustrate the entire process of moving homes.
Prepare Them for the New House
Fear of the unknown is what gives many children anxiety about moving. When kids know very little about what is to come, they tend to imagine the worst. If the new residence is near enough, scheduling a visit or a drive can be helpful for a child. If it’s some distance away, pictures and websites can be useful. A little sales talk will not be amiss; share with your child all the things they can look forward to in the new place. Make it feel like an exciting adventure.
Seek Their Help in Packing
If a child is willing, let him help in putting belongings in boxes and bubble wraps. While packing can get very emotional — for parents as well as for children — it’s helpful in orienting the psyche to the reality of moving.
Let Children Say Goodbye to Those They are Leaving Behind
There are real losses and it’s healthy to make sure your children face them. Give them time to say goodbye to friends, classmates and neighbors. Drive them around town so that they can have a last look at the community they are leaving behind. If advisable, organize a going-away party. Goodbye rituals for the home are helpful also — give your child some privacy to walk through the empty rooms and halls before finally saying farewell. If possible, take pictures of everyone and everything that will be left behind. These can be put in a special album for regular viewing anytime the child wants to walk down memory lane.
Unpack Your Child’s “Security Blankets” First
The first night in a new home is usually the toughest, especially if the new residence is yet to be arranged and decorated to resemble an inviting living space. When this happens, it’s best to unpack first all the things that give your child comfort and security such as their toys, linens, pillows, blankets and photographs. Being able to hold on to something familiar while in a strange new place is helpful, especially for really young children.
Have a “Hello” Ritual
If the family had a goodbye ritual as they bid farewell to their old residence, they should also have a hello ritual to welcome all that there is to come. Schedule a drive around the new neighborhood so that your child can get acquainted to his or her new environment. Check out what activities your child can enjoy there; do visit the local playground or the community center that offers classes and clubs. And if you can encourage your child to meet new people, like the other kids in the neighborhood, then they can adjust better to being in a new place.
Give Your Child Time
Lastly, be patient. Kids can’t be expected to adjust to change overnight. Expect sleepless nights, temper tantrums, and even crying spells during your first weeks in a new house. Don’t reprimand your child for these perfectly normal reactions. Instead, offer your emotional support (welcome and accept feelings!) and be patient. Soon their new home will be their true home.