Helping Children With Moving and Relocating

Moving and relocating are major upheavals for everyone in the family, but the transition can be hardest for children. Just thinking about moving often prompts sadness, fear and denial, as well as excitement and happiness.

When preparing to move, parents make long mental lists of things to pack, things to throw away and logistical details to attend to. Children, on the other hand, tend to focus on the "big picture" and wonder, "Will I make new friends? What will my new school be like?"

Here are some tips for making a move easier for your whole family. These suggestions come from family psychologist Kalman Heller, Ph.D., and authors Thomas Olkowski and Lynn Parker, who wrote the book Moving With Children.

Expectations and Preparation
Parents can help children prepare for the transition by putting themselves in their children's shoes and taking the time to talk about what changes to expect. Children may need to talk repeatedly as they explore their feelings. Let them see that you too are concerned about what daily life will be like in the new home. Involve them in some of the "small picture" chores by giving them a list of things to put in a box, errands to run or address labels to make.

When you talk about the move, do not assume to know your children's concerns. Ask questions and listen. You don't need to have all the answers.

Moving is a balance between the old and the new, try to give equal emphasis to each. When talking about your new home, be careful not to infer that things weren't good at the old one or that it isn't worth cherishing. When mentioning the many things you'll miss and remember, be careful not to instill fear or anxiety in your child about the new home. Reinforce the idea that the whole family will work together and support each other in your new life.

Toddlers and Preschoolers-Young children love and thrive on routine-and nothing is quite so disruptive to routine as moving. This age group is likely to respond to the changes in their routine by being extra clingy, as well as possibly regressing in their toilet or sleep habits. How children respond to disruption depends mostly on their temperament. However, children this age are unlikely to harbor any lingering resentment, as a teen might.

Preschoolers are concrete thinkers and adults need to be consistent in responding to their questions. Don't make extravagant promises about the new home-such as saying, "you'll have so many friends!" -that can't be delivered immediately.

School-Age Children-If possible, move during the summer to allow school-age children to start the new school year without interruption. Summer also gives youngsters time to adjust gradually, explore their new town and meet other kids.

If you must leave in the middle of the school year, speak to your children's teachers about making time to say good-bye. This allows the child to have a sense of finishing up and then moving on, instead of just leaving. If possible, time the child's last day to coincide with the ending of a study unit to allow for a feeling of completion.

Kindergartners and first-graders are enmeshed in the process of separating from parents, forming peer groups and adjusting to new figures of authority. A move may cause them to return to a more dependent relationship with parents, at least until they feel more secure in the new place. As a general rule, older children have more difficulty moving because their peer group assumes an ever-increasing importance in their lives.

Parents-Don't forget that you need time to adjust, as well. Let your children see your own feelings about the move: Your feelings of excitement will be infectious, and your sad feelings will tell them that it is OK to miss your old place.

Preparing for the Move

  • Give your child a blank book to collect addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, autographs or personal messages from friends.
  • Take pictures of your children with their friends.
  • Make good-bye visits to your children's favorite places, such as a playground, museum, farmstand or neighborhood restaurant.
  • Make a scrapbook with photos, drawings and mementos of friends and favorite places.
  • Get a good night's sleep the night before the move. Emotions will be running high enough without crankiness from a lack of sleep.

During the Move

  • Give children assignments, such as labeling boxes or helping to pack small items. Tell them how much you appreciate their help.
  • Arrange for a neighbor, friend or relative to watch younger children during the moving process. Be sure the kids are close by to see what's happening but not in the path of the movers.
  • Mark boxes that need to be opened immediately, such as a box containing your child's favorite stuffed animal or other cherished items.
  • At your new home, set up the children's rooms first. This way, the kids will quickly get sense of familiarity and keep occupied unpacking and arranging their stuff.
  • Create a cartoon map of the new location in which kids can fill-in-the-blanks. Include things such as the new address, phone number, closest pizza place, new school, new ice cream parlor and other recreational locations.

After the Move
Once your family arrives at the new destination, keep in mind that the child is just beginning the most important part of the transition.

  • Take the whole family along on moving-day errands to your new community's hardware store, the supermarket or drug store.
  • Take family walks around the neighborhood. This is a good way to meet neighbors and potential new friends.
  • Look for activities for families, particularly for children. Check with local museums, libraries, zoos, recreation departments and local shops.
  • Encourage your children to meet other kids.
  • Talk to teachers at your child's new school to check on how he or she is adapting.

© Parenthood.com, used with permission.

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