Since having kids, my family has moved four times. Twice cross-country. We learned a few things with those experiences about what to do and what not to do (avoid moving cross-country with a newborn if at all possible!!). I have a good friend gearing up for a move (WAHHHH!), and so I wanted to share my thoughts about the best ways families can prepare for such a big transition while helping their kids feel secure and even excited admist the upheaval.
The first thing – and I hope this is obvious – is to talk about the move; a lot. This is somewhat age-dependent so use your head. A two-year-old doesn’t need to know about the changes six months ahead. A twelve-year-old probably does. Whatever age the child, allow them to talk about their feelings and fears openly. Acknowledge the sad aspects while also highlighting the positives. Involve children in the preparations by allowing them to pack boxes with you. Get kids acquainted with the new home, community, and school by visiting. If it’s a long-distance move, give them information and show them pictures on-line instead.
Remember that children will feel anxious about their possessions being packed away and fearful about never seeing them again. If the move includes purging many items, talk to your child first before getting rid of their clothes, toys, games, etc. I was surprised to learn that my daughter was really attached to a chair. I wouldn’t have ranked it as very important, but to her it certainly was! Bottom-line: don’t make assumptions about what your child values. If you can compromise about what stays and what goes, the process will be much smoother for everyone.
You will likely notice a change in behavior and mood leading up to the move. Kids will seem grumpy, out-of-sorts, and may act-out (that goes for you and your partner too!). There could be regressive behaviors like pee-pee accidents in potty-trained kids or clinging and whining for your attention. Whatever new or unusual behavior presents itself, understand it as your child’s way of expressing feelings. They might be trying to tell you, “I need more of you!” or “I need help making sense of this”. It may or may not be directly related to their feelings about moving. It could just be a response to your being preoccupied with other things, and the overall stress levels in the house going up. Take a time-out from the packing to do something fun with your child. Get out of the house and focus all your attention on them. They likely just need to know you haven’t forgotten about them! As much as possible, AND I STRESS THIS, keep to your regular routines in the midst of moving craziness to reassure kids that not everything has changed!
Now that you know the basics, here are some ideas for making the transition meaningful by connecting kids to their new home:
* Saying good-byes is important for children at any age. In the weeks leading up to the move, schedule time with friends or host a going-away party. Make a point of visiting favorite restaurants, playgrounds, and museums. Ask your child what they would really like to do before you leave.
* If possible, try to have some key objects already set-up at the new house like your child’s bed, favorite books, and toys. At the very least, know which box to find these special items in and un-pack them first.
* Younger kids love mail; both giving and receiving. Exploit this fact and generate some excitement about having new pen pals. Give an address book and fill it in with all the contact information of your child’s friends. You could include nice stationary and stamps with it.
* About a week before moving time, invite a small number of close friends over and have the kids make pictures and letters for each other. Put their work into envelopes, address and stamp them, then walk to mailbox together. When kids arrive at the new house, this special mail will be waiting for them. Their friends will also have a nice reminder of them as well.
* Create a welcoming ritual for the new home such as planting a tree together or making a piece of art for the walls. I think it would be really lovely to write a family mission statement or “rules” together and represent it artistically on a canvas. Something like this:
* Involve kids in the set-up and decoration of the new house, especially their bedroom. Painting the walls? Kids can help! Choosing new decor? Ask for their opinion. When kids participate in making the house a home, they will feel a sense of ownership and attachment to it.
* Don’t spend every minute of every weekend making the new living space perfect. Get out and explore the neighborhood. Make a list of all the cool things there are to do in your new city and start your adventures. Older kids can help do the research and write their own “outings wish list”.
* “Camp out” the first night. How fun would it be to spread a blanket in an empty room, order a pizza, and have a picnic dinner? And your kids will really love a family slumber party!
* Bake cookies – okay, the baking sheet isn’t unpacked yet – BUY cookies and go introduce yourselves to the neighbors.