Moving With Kids, Part I: Prepare Your Children Before the Move
This is the first installment of a four part series on supporting young children during a family relocation. It provides resources for parents to ease their child's transition and set them up for success and happiness in their new city.
Parenting and moving are both challenging responsibilities. When you’re trying to mesh the two, your job gets even harder. Parenting effectively through a major transition, such as a move, is best executed once you’re fully aware of everything your kids will face during the process.
While children can be extremely resilient, they also have strong emotional ties to people, places and routines. Disrupting their life may be inevitable during a relocation, but you can take many steps to ensure they are fully prepared for the changes coming their way long before the moving truck rolls into the driveway.
Moving Is Normal
Why are you and your family relocating? Chances are, it’s for a job change for you or your spouse. Maybe you’re recently divorced and starting to make a life apart from your former spouse. Perhaps health issues or family matters have arisen, or maybe you and your family simply need more space.
Whatever the reason, moving is a normal part of life for most Americans. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau gathered data that showed that 12 percent of Americans over age one moved between 2011 and 2012. Compared to other developed nations, Americans are a highly mobile population.
Your children will move at some point in their lives, most likely multiple times. Don’t feel guilt for initiating this change, especially if the root cause is to provide a better life for your child on the other side. Moving is a normal part of life in America and your children aren’t the only ones who will go through this experience.
The following four stages will help you prepare your kids for this, first by helping them gain a cognitive understanding, then by including them in the process, next by solidifying lasting memories at your current home, and finally by using careful planning to ensure the transition is a success.
Preparation Stage 1: Breaking the News
Your child deserves to be told ahead of time that the family will be moving, even if it just means a short move down the street. It’s healthy for them to mentally prepare for the change. However, you shouldn’t tell them too early.
Make sure the move is definitely happening first, then wait until you can give your children solid specifics. Many experts advise telling them one month in advance. If you tell them too early, before the details have been worked out, they will have too much time to think about it and it could become a cause of stress. If you tell them too late, they will feel panicked that the change is taking place so soon.
When you tell them one month in advance, you are giving them adequate time to gather information and process the upcoming transition. Don’t mention the move in passing – sit them down and make it a formal discussion. A move may be inconsequential to you, but it’s monumental in a child’s life. By treating it with the same importance as them, you’re respecting their feelings and helping them adapt.
"Make sure you tell the kids in good time, talk to them and listen to any comments they make which may reveal hidden fears and worries. Don't underestimate the impact a relocation can have on them - many kids cope really well, and we are constantly told how 'kids are resilient', but some really are not.”
Let Them Ask Questions
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. After you tell your child you are relocating, tell them you will answer any questions they have. Your child will want to know specific details about what changes are going to take place in their day to day life. They may ask if they will go to the same school. They will ask if they will still be able to see their friends.
Even if you find yourself explaining the same point repeatedly, avoid becoming frustrated. Letting children ask questions and patiently answering each inquiry is vital – it’s how your children will overcome tumultuous emotions and regain a sense of peace about the upcoming change.
It’s All About Attitude
As a parent, you know your children look to you for cues on how to act. Believe it or not, this extends beyond actions and dictates feelings as well. When parents are negative, children often adapt that perspective as well. On the other hand, positivity can leak over to your children’s perspective too.
If you’re having difficulty viewing the relocation in a positive light, even if you know it’s the right decision for your family, consider talking to a friend or therapist in private. Avoid negative comments about the move. To help your children (and yourself) on track, make a master list of every positive aspect you anticipate coming from the relocation. An upbeat attitude will help your entire family take on the new challenge with excitement and confidence.
Kathryn Eade (@xcultural_tp), Cross-Cultural Specialist at Thinking People, emphasizes the importance of keeping conversations about moving positive. As a mother who relocated her family from the U.K. to Montreal, she explains:
"My husband had already secured his job before we told the children, but we still kept them very much involved in the process. We talked to them not just about where we were going, but also how they felt about what we were leaving behind.
"We discussed how we would maintain contact with people back home, and made sure those systems were in place before we left (for example, we tested out Skype with their cousins and booked flights for their Grandma to visit before we left). When we talked about relocating, it was always in a positive way - an opportunity for a family adventure. Never that we had to move because of Daddy’s work!”
Help Them Visualize Their New Routine
Children are creatures of habit. They’re used to eating breakfast at the same time every day. They go to music class on Tuesday and soccer practice on Thursday. They play with friends on Saturday. If the relocation is going to drastically change their routine, helping them prepare for this is key.
Give them a visualization of what their new routine will entail. If they will be taking a new bus route, drive the path to school. If they will be signing up for a new team or activity, bring them to the new facility and give them a tour. When your child can see what their new environment will look like, they’ll be able to picture having fun and making new friends along the way.
Preparation Stage 2: Keep Them Involved
Shutting children out from the relocation process isn’t productive – they’ll just be that much more curious. Once you have told them that a move is in their future, it’s time to make it a family affair. When children feel like they are involved, they’re more apt to become excited about the prospects ahead of them. You don’t have to tell them all of the details, but make them feel like they are an important part of the process.
Make Packing Fun
The first way you can get your children involved in the moving process is by including them in packing projects. You may not trust them to pack up the family china, but they can take care of the playroom full of toys. Sure, you may have to supervise and prevent the activity from hindering rather than helping, but it’s possible to make packing fun.
Let your children color and decorate the boxes that hold their favorite toys and games. See who is able to pack their room the fastest (without breaking anything!). Put on dance music and share some snacks while making packing a whole-family activity. It will go by in a flash and you and your child will make happy memories in the process.
Give Them Responsibilities
Children love to feel important. You first made them feel important by including them in the plans by sharing details and answering questions. Now you can make them feel important by putting them in charge of certain tasks.
For example, your child is going to need a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries to use at the new house before the moving van is unpacked. Give them a list of items they need to pack in this bag and allow them to include their favorite toy and their favorite book. When they feel like they are helping, they will be more connected to the entire experience.
Let Them Make Decisions
It’s important to remember how much a move can cause children to feel a loss of control. By giving them chances to make decisions, you are giving them a measure of personal power over the situation.
One of the most meaningful ways to give your children decision-making power is by letting them design the layout for their new bedroom. Tell them they can pick where their bed and dresser will go and decide on the paint color. Let them have a say in how their new room will look and they will have an engaging task to focus on.
Preparation Stage 3: Make Memories
Your child will also want to make sure that their beloved old home won’t disappear from memory. It can be difficult to say goodbye to a familiar place, especially if it is their first time moving, but you can actively involve them in making lasting memories before you leave that will help ease the transition.
Let your child use a disposable or digital camera to take pictures of all of their favorite areas in the home or around the neighborhood. Let them take it to school and take pictures with all of their friends and teachers. Print out all the pictures and decorate a memory book with your child. They can look back at their favorite places and people whenever they start to feel homesick for their old routine.
Visit Favorite Places
Do you have a favorite ice cream shop in your neighborhood? Have you made it a family tradition to get your favorite snacks from the corner store on movie night? Plan a special day where you visit all of your favorite places and carry out your traditions one last time. Encourage them to think about new traditions you can start in the next place you’re going to live.
Plan a Goodbye Party
If you’re relocating far away from friends and family, make it a point to have an official goodbye party so your children can see all of their loved ones before you move. It’s an opportunity to show your kids that your family has a wide network of support, with people that will love to come visit once you are settled into your new home. It will also give you a chance to finalize the process and help them start looking forward to the next stage of life in your new home.
Preparation Stage 4: Set Them Up for Success
Preparing for a move is a time-consuming task by itself. Even though you’re already busy, try to make time to research the details so you’re able to impart as much information to your kids as possible. You probably checked the school district rating before finalizing your move, but dig a little deeper.
Find out what their teacher’s names will be. Introduce yourself to neighbors with children. Research activities in the area so you can recreate your child’s current routine or offer an alternate routine that has many opportunities for social interaction. You are helping set them up for success when you help your elementary and middle-school aged children find the friend groups and fun activities that will brighten up their life.
Educate Yourself on the Signs of Trouble
It’s possible for children to feel down or become depressed after a major move. Before you move, talk to your child’s school psychologist or pediatrician and learn about the signs to watch for. Keep a close eye on your child throughout the process and if you see indications that they aren’t adjusting, consider counseling to help them through the transition. Staying engaged and active in their lives is an effective way to ward off emotional complications from the move.
Parents worry. It’s inevitable. But you don’t have to let your family’s move be a source of stress for you or your children. By staying positive, open and proactive, you will pave the way for your children to thrive in their new environment and your entire family will benefit as a result.
Like what you read? There's more where that came from! Click below to navigate to other chapters:
- Moving With Kids, Part II: Help Your Children Settle Into Their New School
- Moving With Kids, Part III: Help Your Children Make New Friends
- Moving With Kids, Part IV: What to Do If Your Child Is Not Adjusting to the Move
Are you relocating with young children?
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Breaking the News | Schools | Social Adjustment | Emotional Adjustment