Helping Young Kids Adjust to a Move

7736032314_5c69699f36_qIt’s funny, growing up I didn’t really move at all. I lived in the same house in a small midwestern town from age 2 to 18. But, since leaving home for college I’ve had my share of moves. Seventeen different abodes in now three states. I didn’t really mean to turn into a nomad, it just sort of happened. You get pretty good at paring down belongings and change of address notifications.

But, moving with kids is a whole different ball of wax. Our little family recently survived a cross-country move. Although I knew it would be a big adjustment for my husband and I, the person I’ve been thinking about most is our four-year-old son. Knowing that kids thrive on routine and familiarity, and given his love for his nanny and fondness for his preschool, I worried. Would this be a traumatic experience for him?

So, I asked around and read and thought a bit about how to help our son adjust. I’m still no expert, but now that we’re on the other side I thought I’d share some things that we did that seemed to help, as well as a few written resources that I liked. These suggestions are most relevant to young children, but perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found that many of the strategies transcend age- those that seem to have helped my son get through this change have also helped me.

Sometime (not too long) before the move occurs, talk your child through what will happen. We made sure to explain that we were all going together, that all of our belongings were coming with us, and showed him pictures of our new home. My son and I searched for fun things to do in our new city and saved them on a Pinterest board. He frequently asked to look at the “fun stuff pictures”. We were also honest with him about cherished family and friends who wouldn’t be coming with us and answered (many!) questions he had about why we had to move in the first place.

Let kids make some decisions. This was one of the great suggestions from our son’s preschool teacher. Even small things, like allowing him to decide which toy trains to keep with him in a suitcase and which to send with the moving truck, seemed to make a difference.

Keep a routine. Moving is, by nature, chaotic. At various points we were without our belongings, staying with friends, and we had a few weeks away from his dad. But, both during and after the move we tried to keep some things constant. We kept the same sleep schedule. We ate dinner together. And, after the move, we signed up for daily swimming lessons. I think it really helped ground us in our new city to have a month of going to the same place each morning to swim (not to mention how much he learned. . . perhaps more on that in a future post on water safety).

Find the familiar. I think it has really helped our little guy to see that, although some things are different, there are a lot of things about life that will remain the same. For us, this meant an early trip to the local public library to get our library cards and check out some books. The building is different, but the process is the same. He and I were both excited when we found a Trader Joe’s* close to our house- all of the same favorite foods we were used to (and with Texas-size free samples to boot).

Celebrate the new. In addition to finding comfort in the familiar, we are enjoying the excitement of the new and shiny. We are cultivating gratitude for the things in this new chapter of life that might even be better- the favorite new park (with a splash pad!), the great science museum, the house with a yard (and air conditioning!), the reasonably-priced gym (for us) with a playroom (for him). Each day we are exploring a little bit and having fun finding the places we had seen in pictures and talked about.

Make new friends, but keep the old. We have been so blessed with supportive friends, family, and neighbors on both sides of the move. We continue to talk about our “California friends” and stay in touch via Skype. A trip to see extended family at the familiar “Nonna and Opa’s house” shortly after the move seemed to help my son feel connected. And, we’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful welcome from new friends here in Texas.

Allow and validate feelings. It’s a good idea to go in expecting strong feelings from even young children about a move. They get it and are completely aware of big changes, probably even more than we realize. Tantrums, crying, and mood swings are all pretty common (all true for the grown-ups too I guess). Our son coined the term “sad-icited” (= sad + excited) for how he was feeling, which I thought was actually a pretty good description of how most people feel about moving. It helps to tell kids that however they are feeling is okay and normal.

Be kind to each other. Be a little flexible. Let small things go. Change is hard. It won’t be perfect. But, maybe with the right combination of finding the familiar, enjoying the new, and maintaining connections with supportive friends and family, it just might be okay.

Other helpful resources:

Preparing Your Child for a Big Move from Science of Mom
Helping Children Adjust to a Move from HealthyChildren.org

*No stock in Trader Joe’s, just love them.

Has your family survived a move? Any tips to share?

2 thoughts on “Helping Young Kids Adjust to a Move

  1. We moved last year when my boys had just turned six and three. It went surprisingly well, except for a nearly immediate exposure to poison ivy. The hardest part was that we had a week between moving out and then moving in. The kids were at my in-laws for several days without us, then we saw them, then we came up again for the closing without them. I believe that the second separation was the hardest.

  2. We just went through our big move back from the US to Israel with 3 kids 🙂

    I love the way you articulated what helped, I agree with everything you wrote.
    Perhaps the only thing I would add is “take time off”. Many times people move because of a new job/school and it might be tempting to get started with that as soon as you arrive. Sometimes that really can’t be helped but a lot of the times your new work place or school will be OK with a later start date if you just dare ask for it.
    If you can afford to take time off, even if it means losing some income, I think it is well worth it. Moving is exahusting anyway, if you can focus just on the million things you need to do for yourself and your family and your home and leave work/school aside for a few weeks it makes it a lot more managable and gives you more mental space to do everything you mentioned above.

    For older kids, I would add that it helps to share your own feelings (to an appropriate degree) and let them know that you may be more tired/easily upset/moody during the move since it is hard for you too. I think they appreciate the honesty plus it validates their own feelings and reminds them to be kind to you too.

    Miss you guys,
    Nira

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