Nothing feels certain these days. We don’t know the next time we’ll be able to safely gather around a table with friends and celebrate a birthday. Most of us have quit guessing when kids will return to a regular school schedule. Our kids beg for a playdate and shed tears over missing their friends, their routines, their schools. Things are weird and we’re all looking for at least a few semblances of normalcy.
Even during the craziness of our current affairs, families are on the move. Jobs are changing, babies are being born, divorces are proceeding and with those life changes often come new homes. As realtors we work closely with families through what research shows is one of life’s most stressful events, with some people ranking moving as more stressful than divorce.
A dear friend and her three kids recently moved and lots of big emotions were involved but my friend’s worry over how her kids would adjust to their new home outshone all the others. I also moved in the past month and even though I was leaving a home that I would compare to lukewarm coffee and was headed to one that feels more like the perfect oat milk latte you get at Grey Squirrel Coffee, I was worried about how my kids would adjust. Moving is always a stressful experience full of uncertainty that leaves parents desperate for ways to help their children adjust. What do you say? How much do you tell them? When do you tell them?
As a former social worker I helped foster children move between more homes than I care to remember and I aimed to provide comfort and reassurance throughout the process. But it was in recently comforting my own kids about moving that I was reminded of the importance of intentional parenting when bracing your family for making what often feels like one of life’s biggest transitions.
There are several things you can do as a parent to help decrease your child’s anxiety and to help them process their emotions in a healthy way.
- Tell your kids early on in the process and keep your explanations simple. Kids are intuitive and often recognize when something is in the works so do your best to make them a part of the conversation. If children are very young and still unsure of the concept of time be careful you don’t tell them too far in advance. The last thing you want is your 3 year old continually trying to pack their toys in boxes for months because they’re convinced you’re moving tomorrow.
- Be honest about the emotions you’re experiencing and allow your kids to express their emotions, even if they are ones of disappointment and sadness. As parents it’s important we show our kids it’s ok to be sad or nervous about a big change but we also want to balance those emotions with positivity and excitement. Kids follow our lead so if you’re being forced to move due to a job change and your children hear you complain about the awful wallpaper at the new house and how the closest Target is 30 minutes away, you can expect them to be less than enthused about the move.
- “Will we move my bed?” “Will I have my legos at the new house?” Most young children have concerns about their personal belongings and some don’t understand that all of their belongings will go with them. Ask your child to help pack a box with some of their personal belongings. If kids have the opportunity to physically help in the moving process they’re often able to gain a better understanding of what is happening.
- Visit your new home or town before moving if you’re able and take pictures for your child to reference when they want to be reminded about how big the yard is and what their new school looks like. Pictures are also great for capturing memories of your kids’ favorite things about their current home or town. Pictures of their friends, their favorite tree, where they love to go get ice cream on hot summer days. You’ll be glad you captured the memories and when they’re missing their old stompin grounds you can sit down and reminisce together.
- Helping your kids say goodbye to their current home and friends can be very therapeutic not just for them, but for you as a parent as well. We’re emotional about our homes and the memories they hold and it can be helpful, even during the chaos of a move, to take the time to say goodbye to your home. A former client and now friend shared her family’s experience of saying goodbye to a home they deeply loved. At the time, her daughter was four – “SHE planned a ceremonial blueberry picking that was really quite touching. She picked only a handful of blueberries from our garden noting that we should leave “some really good ones” for the new owners and she asked us to form a circle at the gate while she said a prayer to herself. Shortly after she said, “Mom, my prayer was for God to take care of this house and to give it lavender and sage forever.” At her request, we even took one last walk through of the house (in tears), said goodbye to every room, and then opened up our sliding door and all three howled like wolves into the vast woods and farm fields we loved so dearly.”
- Wait to re-do your child’s room until after they are settled in their new home if possible. Yes, it might be a pain to move the bed that’s covered in stickers when you would rather put it on the curb but too much change at once can increase some kids’ anxiety and increase the amount of time it takes for them to feel settled. The sooner you can get your child’s room set up with the things they find familiar, the better.
- Stick to your family’s usual routine. Yes, there are boxes everywhere and you’re not even sure where the toothbrushes are but if Friday night is pizza night or bedtime reading always starts around 7:30 p.m., keeping up these family rituals can be helpful.
- Big Ernie’s New Home: A Story for Children Who are Moving, by Whitney Martin
- Louis and Bobo: We Are Moving, by Christiane Engel
- The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe, by Susan Patron
- Where I Live, by Eileen Spinelli
Lastly, a book that a lot of parents find helpful is Lori Collins Burgan’s Moving With Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home.
And remember, there is always more stuff to move than you thought. No matter how organized and prepared you are there are going to be unexpected hiccups along the way. What really matters at the end of the day is that you allow your child the opportunity to express their emotions about the move and provide them with the opportunity to feel involved and included in the process.