Moving is among life’s biggest stressors. While relocating is extremely hectic and disruptive for parents, it is also quite stressful for kids. Children thrive on familiarity and routine. Moving to a new home, no matter how near or far, can be very unsettling. Below are some strategies for a successful move with children.
1. Tell Your Children Thoughtfully
The most important things to consider when telling children about a move are timing, environment and attitude. Once your decision to move is final, tell children right away. Delaying the information can lead to increased anxiety. Allowing children to hear the news first and including them in conversations provides them assurance that they matter as well as time for them to process the experience.
A well-planned and well-timed conversation is paramount. Allow ample time for feelings to be shared and questions to be addressed. Assess your own family’s needs and dynamics and create a plan that works best for you. Consider sharing the news as a family unit, where siblings can rely on each other and learn from one another’s questions. Alternately, if your children’s ages and temperaments vary considerably, it might be best to tell them individually. For example, a teenager’s concerns can be overwhelming to a younger child who is more concerned about the concrete aspects of a move.
Be positive but honest. Share what you know, let them ask countless questions and express all feelings. Reassure them that you will find answers and address concerns together. Allow ample time for the news to be digested and encourage kids to keep the lines of communication open.
2. Prepare for Change
As Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” All things change. Change is normal. Change is exciting! Remind your children of the transitions and changes they have experienced successfully (changing grades, teachers, classmates, sports teams, clubs, etc.). Get kids excited about researching their new neighborhood. Make a bucket list of things to do before you leave your current town and things to explore in your next destination.
3. Accept Emotions
Allow kids to express positive and negative feelings – all feelings are OK! Kids may feel scared, sad, angry, worried, upset, excited or they may not know how to feel. Unexpressed feelings can lead to unwanted behaviors. Take children’s worries and concerns seriously and be respectful, not dismissive, of their feelings. Bear in mind that these feelings may arise well after the move and will need attention. Be honest with your own feelings, it’s OK to let your kids know that you are sad to say goodbye to friends.
4. Explore Your New Neighborhood
Ideally, bring children to visit your new neighborhood and school. If this is not possible, take photos or videos of your new home, neighborhood, school, nearby parks and cool places your children will be excited to explore. Check the school website and ask a staff member to email photos of the school and teachers. Set up a phone or Skype call with the principal to ask questions. Contact the parent association and ask for a “buddy family” to speak with before you move. Research before and after school clubs and sports and other school and community events.
5. Say Goodbye
Be sure to have a plan in place for saying goodbye. Kids need closure. Make a list of people and places you want to see before you leave. Take photos or videos for a memory box or scrapbook. Have a goodbye party with friends and let them sign a book, T-shirt or pillowcase. Have kids share their new contact information and remind them of the many ways to stay in touch with old friends.
6. Involve Everyone in Moving Day
Giving kids some responsibility in the move will allow them to feel needed and helpful. Even young children can help organize toys and pack clothes or pack a special bag of favorite things for the journey (feel free to sneak in a surprise toy or book). Organize a fun activity for kids while the house is being packed. But, do allow children to come back and see the house once it is empty for a sense of closure. Encourage kids to leave a memory behind (carve their name in a tree, paint a stone for the garden or plant something). Make the chaos fun by allowing kids to label and draw on boxes and use them after for creative play.
7. Make New Friends
Elementary and preschool age children may need your support in making new friends. Encourage them to join clubs and after-school sports or activities. Invite friends over for play dates often. Join expat groups, religious groups, community clubs, etc. Set an example for your children. Put yourself out there, be friendly, have a moving-in party, introduce yourself to neighbors … your children will learn from you. Be a role model.
Finally, reassure kids that no matter what changes in life, you will always be there for them. After all, home is where your family is!