Over the years, many studies have attempted to define and rank stressful life experiences for the average adult. For anyone who has ever had to endure the process of moving, it should come as no surprise that moving ranks consistently within the top 10 of the most stressful life events for adults, right up there with divorce and major illness.
For children, the psychological impact is even more significant. As adults, it’s hard to keep perspective of how small a child’s world really is. Moving can be hugely disrupting for a child, and can even affect their personality well into adulthood. However, there are lots of things parents and guardians can do to help ease children into the move and to help them make the most of their transition.
Here are ten ways to help prepare young children for a move, and to help them adjust to their new house and community once they have settled into their new location.
1. Tell your children about the upcoming move ASAP.
Waiting until it’s time to put up a “For Sale” sign on the lawn, or having your kids find out from someone else, like neighbors or classmates, will only leave them feeling confused, left out, and possibly angry. Letting them know well ahead of time allows them space to come to terms with the idea of the move, and to accept the reality of the impending life change.
2. Encourage questions and be prepared for a variety of reactions.
Give them plenty of information and answer questions honestly. Emphasize any possibly exciting aspects of the move. For example, if your child will get his or her own room for the first time, or if your new location is close to something they’d find exciting, like a zoo, remind them that for any misgivings, there are also things they can look forward to. Children get great comfort from merely being heard, and by being assured that their family is stable.
3. Recruit your children to help you investigate your new community.
Most cities or towns have a website; take some time to explore the site with your child to find information on lifestyle, activities, as well as local amenities, such as schools, places of worship, recreation centers, community sports associations, and parks. Most community websites also include locations of the nearest shopping malls, movie theaters, and unique attractions such as theme parks and landmarks.
4. Put your child in charge of packing their toys.
Allowing your child to decide what to do with his or her toys provides them a feeling of control in a situation where they have none. Before it comes time to pack, ask your children to separate their toys into three categories and give them a deadline to complete the task.
- Category 1 comes with them to the new house.
- Category 2 is for donating to a local shelter or community center.
- Category 3 is only for any toys that are beyond repair and should be thrown away.
5. Pack your children’s belongings last and make packing fun.
Allowing them prolonged access to their familiar possessions reduces anxiety. Ask your children to help pack some of their belongings, and reassure them that their boxes, along with everything in them, will be unpacked at their new home.
Make packing fun by providing cheerful packing materials, such as a variety of brightly colored markers to put their name or drawings on their boxes, bubble wrap for swaddling their dolls and soft toys, as well as a selection of stickers to decorate and identify what is in each box.
6. Take your children to visit the new destination at least once before moving day.
If possible, take your children for a short, upbeat visit to their location. Your child may surprise themselves and learn that their new town or city isn’t that much different than the one they know.
7. Ask your child if he or she would like to have a moving party.
Invite your children’s friends over to enjoy a night of pizza and movies. Take plenty of pictures and get creative with any number of going away party ideas to make it as fun as possible for your child.
8. Make a plan for them to socialize after the big move.
If your moving date is scheduled after the end of the school year, your child could be facing a long, lonely summer break. As soon as possible, sign them up for a summer program in their new location or check online for activities your children can join, such as story time at the local public library. You can also arrange play dates for your children with new neighbors who have kids in the same age range.
9. Organize a post-move “family exploring day.”
Let your children help plan an afternoon walk, a scenic drive through a specific part of your new town, or select a neighborhood to explore. Exploring as a family will help your children not only familiarize themselves with their new community but also create fun new memories in their new home right away.
10. Involve your children in decorating decisions for their new bedrooms.
Even the youngest child should have some of their ideas incorporated into the set-up of their new space. Whether it’s a big decorating decision, like choosing the wall color, or a small one, like selecting just the right spot for the toy box, giving your child “a say” helps them embrace their new surroundings, get settled, and feel like they have a refuge from all the change they must adjust to.
Depending on a multitude of factors, it can take a child anywhere from a few days, to several months to adjust to their new surroundings. To help ease the transition, keep the lines of communication open before, during, and after the move. Let your children know that they can talk to you about any concerns, fears, or questions they have, and they will adjust in their own time.