Your children love you and look up to you. They trust you to have their best interests in mind, and we’re sure you do. Thus, how can you do them justice when preparing for a big (and possibly traumatic) move? We’re here to help! Below are some suggestions for how to ensure your children have a smooth move.
Explain the Move to Your Kids
Kids are smart—often smarter than we give them credit for. It often helps to ease kids’ minds about a move to explain all of the aspects of the move, including:
- Where you’re going
- Why you’re moving
- What to expect in the new location
- When you’re moving
- What you can (and can’t) take with you
Instead of leaving them in the dark or trying to avoid hard details, such as the fact that your kids won’t be in the same school district or that you’re moving to a place without a pool or that the dog can’t come, tell your kids about it directly and with love. Don’t sugarcoat!
However, do allow them to be anxious, confused, or hurt, and be ready to combat those emotions by making it clear that you’re willing to honestly answer any questions or concerns your kids have.
Expect and Be Understanding of Their Grief
Moving represents a traumatic loss: loss of friends, familiarity, routine, and a dear place where your kids felt safe, comfortable, and loved. Your kids may grieve for these losses. This is natural and needs to be handled with love and tact.
Asking your kids to “grow up,” “get over it,” or in any other way asking them not to act out the depression or anxiety they feel will end up hurting your kids in the long run (and in the short run!) Instead, know that they may become lethargic, nervous, or angry. Allow them room to feel this way.
You don’t have to accept or coddle bad behavior. However, tears or even outbursts are to be expected and can be mitigated with lots of reassurance, hugs, explanations, and love.
Be sure to ask your kids how they feel about the move. Then, don’t be afraid to share your feelings, too!
Share Your Own Feelings
In truth, you may be as anxious or depressed about the move as your kids. While your children do depend on you as an anchor, it doesn’t mean you have to be bullet-proof. In fact, it may help with your child’s grief to show them how you handle your own grief. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids that you’re worried about the move, too.
Perhaps you can make a list with your kids of all the things you fear leaving behind or all the things you’re anxious about when you get to your new place. But don’t stop there! Model for your kids how to have hope, joy, and determination in the face of fears.
For every worry you have or they have, lists ways together that you can overcome those fears. For example, if you and your kids are worried about leaving friends behind, list ways to stay in touch with friends and ways to make new friends at your next location.
Being honest about how you feel and dealing with your feelings in a healthy, hopeful way will help your kids do the same.
Keep in Touch with Old Friends
Help your children plan for how to keep up with their old connections. For children, they sometimes don’t yet understand that out-of-sight does NOT mean out of mind. Be there when your kids tell their friends they’re moving, and be ready to step in with encouragement and advice for how to keep in touch.
Talk to your kids about making phone calls, writing letters, emails, or staying connected through appropriate social media. Also, if possible, promise your kids to visit your old home, and invite their friends to visit at your new home.
Get Plugged-In Ahead of Time
Don’t wait around to start making connections at your new location. Start looking at sports, arts, or music clubs your kids can join in your new community. If you can, meet your new neighbors.
Visit churches, museums, and zoos in your new neighborhood, and reach out to the people there. It’s especially important to connect your kids with their new schools.
If there is a school event or open house, be sure to take your kids before the move to introduce them to their new community.
Get Familiar with Your New Location
If you can, visit your new location as often as possible. Find exciting things to do there, such as restaurants, bowling alleys, malls, parks, pools, toy stores… anything connected with your children’s interests.
Making fun memories before you move helps generate excitement and anticipation and fights the idea that the new place will be less interesting than the old.
If you can’t physically go to your new location before the move, research the place online and make a list of all the things your children want to do and see when they get there. Be sure to follow through on promises made to take your kids to places they want to go!
Involve Your Kids in Decision-Making
There will be many move-related items your children can’t control. They may not be able to choose which state or country to live in, which neighborhood, which house, etc. However, as much as you can, involve your children in moving decisions, such as:
- What to take with them
- What color to paint the house (or at least their room)
- Which bedroom to take
If you’re willing (and we recommend it!), let them have a hand in choosing the house and neighborhood, too, including allowing them to tour the school they’ll be attending. By involving them in important decisions, they’ll feel ownership over the move. They’ll feel important and considered. And these are good feelings to cultivate to combat the trauma of a move.
The fear of the unknown is what haunts most youngsters when it comes to a move; thus, continuing traditions from the old place to the new is critical.
If your child is used to a game night every Tuesday, church every Wednesday, a special daddy-daughter date every Thursday, and spaghetti night every Friday, make sure that’s what they can expect in the new house as well.
Don’t have many such traditions? Start them now so that you’ll have them to carry over to make the move a smoother transition. Also, let your child decorate their room. Or, if this would upset your child because they’re used to seeing their things a certain way, go in ahead of them and set up their room and all their things so that they can walk into a space that is comfortable and familiar.
Suggest Outlets for Your Kid’s Anxiety
If your children are truly depressed about the move, like we mentioned, don’t ask them to repress it. Instead, show them ways to cope. If they don’t want to share their feelings with you (as many teen children don’t), ask them to write about it instead. Perhaps they could keep a journal. Or, if your child is artistic, perhaps they could express themselves with art or music.
A great way to suggest this is to offer to sign them up for art or music classes at your new location. Also, especially with smaller kids, read them stories about moving. This will help model successful moves and show them they’re not alone in the experience.
Pre-Plan the Week of the Move
Another way to remove your children’s anxiety is to plan together exactly what you’ll do when the week of the move. If your kids know what to expect, they’ll be less worried.
Also, you can build in to your schedule time to share doing fun things as a family at your new location. You can even plan what to wear, eat, and what rooms you’ll decorate or which boxes you’ll unpack. Be sure to make their rooms a top priority!
If your children are truly traumatized by your move, consider counseling. There’s no shame in allowing them to talk to someone who can help them through their feelings. If you’re worried about a counselor, go with them, and research and meet counselors before they talk to your kids.
Remember, you and your kids are going through the moving process together. Don’t hesitate to lean on each other and use this exciting but challenging new time to grow closer as a family!