Whether you are moving across the country or across town, this can be a stressful time for the whole family. Here are a few things to think about as you prepare for and make your way through this major transition.
Air your own feelings so you can set an open and positive tone for the children.
You need to spend some time talking with a good listener about your own feelings about the move, positive and negative, so that as much of your psychological resources as possible are available to help the children with the transition. Voice your fears, grieve your losses, and take some time to say good-bye to the simple, beloved things you will be leaving behind.
Inoculate them with Special Time
Even the best move is stressful. And it will take a lot of your time and energy to coordinate and bring together your new home. Now, before the chaos is upon you, spend some extra Special Time with the children. Shower them with bursts of your full attention. Enthusiastically enter into play with them. Allow them to take the lead and the more powerful role in the play.
Be open to their core questions and answer affirmatively with warmth and enthusiasm.
Even before children can speak, there are core questions they ask to have answered many times each day. They are the most important and abiding questions of childhood. As they prepare for this transition, be on the look-out for these questions and be ready to remind them of your love and affirmation of their developing selves.
Children ask, “Do I belong?” when they bring us a favorite toy as we talk with another adult. They ask, “Are you glad I’m here?” when they wake at six a.m. and crawl over to us with an expectant look. They ask, “Do you see who I am?” when they make jokes by putting funny things on their heads, or when they playfully dump out a whole bowlful of blocks. They ask, “Will you keep me safe?” as they encounter dogs bigger than they are on the street. And they want to know, “Am I doing all right?” when they climb into your lap as you’re trying to catch five minutes with the newspaper at the end of the day. Your children will benefit from as much extra reassurance on these core issues as you can give them through this process.
Arrange a positive introduction
Before the move, if it’s possible, take your children to visit your new home, their new daycare or preschool, the local playground, the neighborhood grocery store, and other places they will come to know. Arrange ahead of time for them to meet friendly people. Introduce yourself to another family in the neighborhood with children near your children’s ages, and then bring your children for an introduction. Meeting a pet that lives near your new home can be helpful. If you belong to a faith-based congregation, arrange for someone there to introduce you to another family with children. The children need something, and preferably someone, to move “to” in order to balance their feelings about all they will be moving away “from.”
Empower them with special moving boxes
It’s important for the children to feel the move is something that the family is doing together, not something that is happening to them. And certainly not something they might get lost or forgotten in! You want to involve them in the process in positive ways and let them know they are included and welcome in the move. Be sure to communicate that the move belongs to them too.
Give each child a sturdy but smallish packing box. You want it to be a size that they can carry themselves if possible. Allow them to decorate the boxes and help them each put their names on their box. This is the box that will contain their special things. As much as you can, allow them to choose what goes into their box. You might suggest they include a favorite toy, a cozy blanket or pillow, a picture of loved ones, or drawings of their old and new houses. Then, let the children carry their boxes out of the old house and into the new one. These boxes remain with the children throughout the actual relocation from one home to the other. Some children keep these boxes for many years afterward.
Help them with “good-bye”
Talk to your children about what things will be like both during the process of the move and once you are living in your new home. If this brings up sad feelings, that’s OK. Let them know that you think it’s OK to feel sad about moving, that grownups sometimes feel sad about moving too, and that you are there to listen.
Give them a chance to air their other feelings as well. They might be very excited about the move and need to jump around the room with a moving box on top of their heads. They might find the idea of a move frightening, and if you feel you can finesse it, you might talk to the “Move Monster” with bravado and tell it to go away and stop bothering your little one. You might find this allows the children to blow off their anxieties in bursts of laughter. If so, you’re doing great!
Play with the concept of moving in a way that allows the children to communicate their feelings. Buy or pretend a moving truck for a family of stuffed animals and play “Time to Move” with the children. Read them stories about moving (we have a few suggestions in the Recommended Reading section). Draw pictures of things you will miss about living where you do now and practice saying “Good-bye” to those things. You might let the children help you pack the pictures in your own “Memory Box” to take along with you.
Give the children time to get grounded
Once you are in the new location, get the children back to their regular routines as quickly as practical and reinstitute your schedule of Special Time. It will take time for the reality of the move to set in for all of you. As feelings come up, tell the children that they are welcome to feel sad or angry or lonely and you will sit with them while they are upset.
Listen to how they feel. Limit behavior as needed, but maintain an air that says all feelings are welcome. Let them cry or even tremble, sweat or shake. Children know how to get upset feelings out. What they require from us is attention and the safe warmth of our love and acceptance. Upsets pass. Feelings change. Letting children fully express an upset lifts the heaviness of those feelings and allows them to return to better functioning.
Let your children spend some time making friends with the new house and yard. When you feel they are starting to get comfortable there, play Hide and Seek in the new house and discover its best hiding spots together. During the first few weeks, spend time with the children just walking through the neighborhood. Get to know what and who is where. Help the children draw a simple map of the street you live on and write in for them the names of the neighbors and household pets you meet. This “ground time” will help them develop a relationship with the new place and its inhabitants. Keep looking for opportunities to remind them that they belong with you, in your family, no matter where you live, and that you are happy they are with you.