Making Moving Easier for Children
[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
Transitions are hard on everyone, and when the whole family is affected such as in a big move to a new home, parents often get so caught up in the logistics of the move and their own stresses that helping their children cope with the move can get lost in the chaos. Here are a few things you can do to ease the transition for your little people without adding more stress to yourself:
- With small children, it can be tempting to build up the move beforehand to make it seem like an exciting adventure, but over excitement can be just as stressful and overwhelming to small children (and big ones!) as anxiety can be. Instead, try to keep things as low-key as possible. Wait until it’s close to time to actually start packing before discussing the move with your little one, and then use simple, age-appropriate language to tell them that you are all moving together (emphasize together so there’s no misunderstanding!) to a new house.
- Show them pictures of the new house, the new yard, their new room, the kitchen, bathroom, living room, etc. Ask them where they’d like to put their bed and draw it on the picture with a marker. Do the same with their toy box, toothbrush, high chair, sandbox, and anything they ask about to reassure them that their things are coming along on the move and to begin to familiarize them with their new space. Give them a marker and another set of pictures of the new house to draw on so they can begin to make it their own.
- Put boxes in their room a few days before the move and let them begin to pack their own things in their own time. You can go back and repack the boxes when they’re asleep or playing elsewhere if needed. Giving them some control over the move will help tremendously with their feelings of being taken away from their familiar home.
- Keep a few familiar toys out for the actual move to help your little one see that their things are coming with them. If possible, let them help with loading the boxes from their room onto the truck, too. Knowing that their toys and clothes and bed are coming with them on the move is very comforting.
- Pack a travel bag with new toys and activities and healthy, familiar snacks for moving day. The novelty of the new toys will help them to travel more happily, and the familiar snacks will keep their tummies settled and hunger at bay making for a calmer trip for all.
- At the new house, unpack your little one’s things first if at all possible so that they can see for themselves that they made the trip and can begin settling in right away. Take the time to play with them, too. It’s amazing how a few minutes of playing together can settle a small child when they’re stressed!
- Don’t be surprised if your little one is clingy and whiney for a few days after the move. After unpacking their things, don’t try to rush to unpack everything else all at once. Give your child all of the time and attention they need to help ease the transition for them.
- Nighttime can be the hardest for children in a new home, so be prepared for lots of cuddling and possibly a night visitor in your bed for a while. Being there for your little one at night is as important as being there for them in the day!
- Involve them in unpacking and putting away everything from kitchen utensils to books to linens to clothes. Children are very tactile, and actually touching all of the places and putting familiar things from their old home away in the new home can help them to begin to feel at home themselves.
- Stick to familiar routines such as bedtime, naptime, etc. But don’t be rigid about schedules. Your little one has been through a huge change and needs extra attention and understanding from their source of comfort and security…you!
- Introduce new things like playgroups, pediatricians, babysitters, churches, etc. slowly, spread out over as long a period of time as possible. The move itself is overwhelming enough in its newness without adding in a ton of other unfamiliar things right away.
- Find some things near your new home that are familiar to your little one from your previous home such as a chain grocery store, toy store, restaurant, etc. Seeing and visiting familiar places is vastly reassuring for small children because they can see for themselves that you can still buy them food and other necessities even though you’ve moved.
Giving your child the reassurance that some things will remain the same even when so many things have changed helps to stabilize and assure them that their needs will still be met and life will still go on in many of the same patterns and routines they are used to. Remaining calm and available for your little one, even in the midst of your own stresses over the move, is key. But take care of yourself, too. Change is hard on everyone, so cut yourself some slack and don’t try to do everything at once. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
*A mama shared a great idea: “When we moved we made my just-turned-3-year-old son a picture book. It told a story of a little boy who had to move, showed photos of our old house, and told about what things (toys, furniture, etc.) would go to the new house with pictures of the boy’s new room, yard, activities he’d do in the new house, a moving van, boxes, etc. It included emotion pictures, too, and the story talked about how sometimes the boy felt scared/sad/excited/nervous/etc. It went through the whole process til a happy ending with the boy and his family settled into the new house. The boy’s name in the book, of course, was my son’s and the photos were all of his stuff and of the actual house we were moving to. He loved the book. Read it almost everyday, sometimes many times a day when he’d start to stress out. I only forgot one thing. Neither my husband or I thought to explain that our pets would come with us. The first night we slept at the new house, the cats stayed behind so we could get things settled a little first. Big boy made it through two horribly stressful days of hauling stuff to the new house, fighting back the meltdowns, until his little world fell apart that first bedtime in the new place. Two hours of tears later, he finally managed to say that he was sad that we’d never see the cats again. OH! We felt so bad!! A year later he still talks about the move a lot. It is amazing what an impact a change like that makes on a small child!”
Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.