Moving, under any circumstances, is difficult. There’s too much to do, too much to pack, too much to load on the truck, too much to take from the truck to the new place and too much to unpack. Then there are all those things such as changing utilities, forwarding mail and finding new places to go and new people to befriend. Now add children to the mix.
Yes, the complexities just grow when you’re moving kids, too. Depending on their ages and temperaments, children view moving as uprooting their lives or as a challenge to tackle or somewhere in-between. But, for children, moving is never trivial, and a recent study outlines potentially dangerous outcomes for people who move often during childhood.
Bottom line: There are many challenges associated with making a move with children. To make the process go more smoothly – and less dangerously -here are three things you should take the time to discuss with children before a move. In fact, do it long before moving day arrives:
- How the child is feeling.
- How his or her friendships will be affected.
- The safety of the new location.
Acknowledging the feelings of children before a move
Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, notes that moving to a new home can cause powerful feelings within the child. Separation anxiety can be triggered due to the process of leaving familiar surroundings and the uncertainty associated with the new location.
She emphasized the importance of encouraging children to share their feelings during this time saying, “Encourage your child to directly express all powerful feelings to you, including sadness, excitement, fear, and anger.”
She further recommended creating a scrapbook that focuses on both the old house and the new house. In the section devoted to the old home include pictures of rooms, nearby locations, friends, and family. You may even want to have them put small mementos from people and places they will most miss.
But don’t just concentrate on what’s being left behind. To help build excitement for the new destination for your children before a move, request tourist brochures and go through regional magazines or newspapers to put in things the child is excited about. Finally, leave space for new memories to be added.
Friendships: New and old
A common concern for children before a move, especially teens, is leaving their friends behind and concern that they’ll be unable to forge new friendships at their new school. It is important to address each of these concerns separately.
Help children brainstorm with all the ways they can keep in touch with their existing friends. Depending on their age they may be able to follow each other on various social media platforms, use video messaging, email, or text.
Some children may be excited about receiving physical mail from the friends and family they will be leaving behind. If this is appealing to the child, you can purchase packs of postcards and add stamps and the new mailing address to each one. Then allow your children to give them to some of their favorite people.
Be sure to purchase a set for your child too and encourage her or him to begin a regular correspondence.
Making new friends is more challenging because the opportunity to do so is extremely limited. Use the internet to explore areas, interests, clubs, and groups offered in the local area or at the school your child will be attending. Allow them to choose one or two extracurricular activities to participate in that is focused on one of their personal interests. This will ensure they are exposed to a population of children who have similar interests that also are age-appropriate.
Finally, when you reach the new destination, take a family walk around the neighborhood. Encourage children to reach out when they see potential friends. It won’t be easy for them, but it will establish a good habit for later in life.
Safety and security
Another common fear children of all ages face when confronted by a new move is a destabilization in their feelings of safety and security. Even when they are unable to verbalize this, it becomes apparent with seemingly random meltdowns about inconsequential events.
There are two ways to help children confront their fear and provide them with a reliable feeling of security throughout the moving process.
First, acknowledge that going to a brand-new place can feel a little scary because it is completely unknown. Ask if they would like to get to know more about the place they will be moving to and then be prepared to give them an explanation of what makes their new city safe. There are numerous online safety resources parents can consult to find the best information about the new city.
You can also give children maps of the city with all the most important locations to their daily life clearly marked. For children with their own smartphone, there are many apps that can be used for this.
Another important way to bolster their sense of security is to keep as much of their daily routine in place as possible. This is especially important for younger children but routine is also beneficial for teens. Keeping meal times the same and ensuring children are getting enough sleep can give them touchstones for what would otherwise feel like a very disorienting experience.
Ensuring children are comfortable and actively encouraged to talk about their feelings throughout the moving process will make it easier for them to address specific concerns as they come up.
By taking the initiative in discussing two of the most common of these concerns, it can give them a gateway into exploring their other feelings more openly and provide them with the reassurance that you will be there to help them through the transition.
Following is move advice from experts – professionals and people who’ve been there moving with children:
Digital Media Coordinator
“For kids, finding a local activity to partake in is key. After school activities and clubs work great for the kids too. For young boys especially, local sports are a great way to meet new people.
Religious groups are particularly great for meeting new people, so find a church, synagogue or mosque depending on your denomination.”
Family Lifestyle and Travel Expert, Former Travel Agent and Founder
“Moving affects every child differently. Stay positive at all times and focus on the fact that the family is moving together as a group – including the pets and favorite playthings. Set up adventures where you find all fun stuff for kids.”
“Planning the move as a family can help minimize the issues for everyone. Make a plan, get everyone’s input and use the ideas. Today parents can help children by getting them to be more familiar with their new environment. Using tools like Goggle Earth, virtual tours, and looking at websites so children can see the place where they will be living, going to school, and get a lay of the land. If you have the option the end of the school year is the best time to move. Being able to finish the school year with their friends and then begin a transition provides a more consistent and stable way to change.”
Public Relations Specialist
“It’s certainly easier to complete most tasks in the absence of children, but as tempting as it may be to send them off to a sitter or friend while dealing with the details of moving, reconsider. Children gain greater control over their fear and anxiety by directly participating in moving-related activities.” One suggestion: “Give your child a camera and have him document your move. Once you arrive and are settled in, make time together to create the “moving” chapter of your family photo album.”
House and Office Relocations Manager
“Middle school seems to be the toughest time to make a transition. So if it’s possible, wait until school’s out to minimize the negative effects on your kinds when moving. Involve them in your move as much as possible assigning them easy tasks. Stay positive in front of your children as much as possible. This will also help you to stay more positive. Sooner or later the move will pass.”
Digital Marketing Manager
“Waiting until school’s out is not the greatest idea. In fact, it may make the kid even more attached to classmates which will make the moving even harder as the child would probably not want to leave friendships behind. My personal advice is to do it immediately after the family has made its choice to move.”
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
“Have the children be, on some level, a part of the decision-making process to feel a sense of control of their environment. School is an important part of development; therefore, I would advise not pulling kids out of school midterm – this sets up a pattern of noncompletion and focusing on fitting in versus completing school.”