Moving With Kids: How to Prepare Them For The Big Day
By Hanna Kielar
The truth is that moving can be incredibly stressful. One study revealed that over 58% of Americans find moving more stressful than planning for a wedding! Moving with kids not only adds more items onto your to-do list but it can also stir up a myriad of emotions for both children and adults.
Parents can often feel guilt over having to make sudden changes to a child’s school and budding social relationships. Studies show that moving a child can have a lasting impact on the types of relationships that are formed, even into adulthood.
It can be a challenge to begin a conversation with a child about moving, no matter what the age. The good news is that there are some helpful strategies to follow when moving with a child. We interviewed these mental health experts to understand how to talk to kids about moving and make the transition as smooth as possible.
It’s important to note that while we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips about moving, the following recommendations shouldn’t be construed as professional medical advice. Please consult with a licensed mental health professional about you and your child’s emotional and psychological health.
Create An Open Conversation About Moving
One of the first and most important steps in preparing to move with children is to discuss it with your kids. While it can be easy to brush things off by saying everything will be okay, children ultimately need to have the opportunity to express their emotions about the move.
According to Dr. Nora Gerardi, a Staff Psychologist at Cognitive Behavioral Consultants, “Parents often have the urge to jump-in and problem-solve their children’s distress.” Gerardi emphasizes that diminishing a child’s concerns can reinforce anxiety. Instead, she says, parents should “take a step back to communicate that emotions are okay to feel.”
Get On The Same Page
If you have a partner, you’ll need to get on the same page. According to award-winning author and psychoanalyst Dr. Laurie Hollman, “It’s imperative for parents to be on the same page with what they explain and absolutely refrain from judging or blaming one’s spouse.”
Hollman shares that if a parent expresses significant concerns about a move, it can increase children’s anxiety. “Try and keep adult worries separate from the kid’s earshot. Your kids need to feel secure in your love and devotion to their needs.”
- Talk with your partner or the other guardians in your child’s life.
- Make sure you’re on the same page, so you don’t share conflicting information.
- Keep difficult, adult conversations away from children.
Slow Down And Listen
When preparing to move with children, you might feel compelled to complete the many tasks on your to-do list as quickly as possible. From packing essentials to staging your home, slowing down might feel like the last thing you want to do. However, taking the time to prepare both you and your kids for the upcoming changes will help your family in the long run.
- Set aside time for a family meeting.
- Have all of the facts and information ready.
- Make sure you have your kids’ attention.
- Let them know that family is priority #1.
Discuss Important Details
Dive straight into the conversation with the most important facts, answer “why, when, where” of moving right off the bat. It’s important to provide the “why” upfront so your motivations are clear. Immediately follow that with the when and where, so they have the information they need to process the news.
Experts agree that if you have a discussion with your kids before figuring out the essential information, this could lead to some additional anxiety for kids. According to Dr. Eric Herman, MA, L.L.P, of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, “It would be good to discuss the move a few months before moving, so kids can ask questions and ready themselves for the change …[Discussions] without solid facts, tend to increase anxiety.”
By providing these facts earlier in the process, kids will feel more at ease when given the appropriate amount of time. Give your kids the facts upfront. Tell them:
- Why you’re moving.
- When you’re moving.
- Where you’re moving.
- Ask them if they have any questions.
- Ask your children how they feel.
- Let them know their feelings are valid and it’s okay if they feel sad.
One primary way parents can help support children with moving to a new home is to provide sincere reassurance. “Don’t only talk to them in preparation, but listen closely to their perceptions, fears, hopes, and anticipations,” says Hollman. “Sometimes, just feeling listened to… helps all [on its own].” In other words, being supportive and understanding can go a long way in helping your child cope with an upcoming move.
- Be positive but be realistic.
- Listen to them with your full attention.
- Let them talk without interjecting.
Be There For Your Child
You know your child best. Do they need time to process in silence? Do they need a hug? Keep your line of communication open and let them know you are there to help. Check-in with them about every other week, depending on how they’re coping with the news.
Ask them if there are things they want to do, let them be involved in the coping process. For instance, you can ask, “Who will you miss seeing at school?” Reassure them that you will get the contact information from the parents and that plan visits or video chats (if feasible, of course).
If your kids are excited to move, that’s great! Continue to be positive about the move as well and share in their excitement.
- Let your child cope in their own way.
- If they’re excited to move, share in that excitement.
- Check-in and see how they’re doing.
- Schedule an appointment with a professional if they are having a hard time.
Tips To Ease Moving Anxiety In Kids
After you’ve discussed the move, you should take steps to lessen your child’s fears, doubts and anxiety about moving. Try some of the tips below to help your child become more comfortable with the new move.
Visit The New Neighborhood
Another way to ease the transition of moving with kids is to walk through the new neighborhood, school, and whenever possible, visit the new home. If an in-person visit is out of reach, photos or virtual walkthroughs of the house can also help kids envision themselves living in a new location and ease their anxiety. Herman notes, “The more familiar they are with the new place, the less anxious children will be.”
- In-person visits to the home and neighborhood are preferable.
- Virtual visits are an option too through photos, videos and Google Maps street view.
- Help your child envision themselves living there.
There are many reasons why you might decide to move. Common reasons for moving include changes to employment such as a new job or job loss, divorce, or the loss of a family member. Restarting your career in a new city can often lead to moving to a new home as well.
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While it can be a complicated process when navigating these changes as an adult, kids will look to parents to maintain a sense of security. “Be calm and positive about the move, while at the same time respectful of the changes and possible loss a child may feel,” according to Herman.
- Address any collateral trauma associated with the move (loss, divorce, etc.).
- Be the source of love and positivity for your child in trying times.
- Seek professional guidance for yourself and your children if dealing with trauma.
- Bring up the positives of your move, what your kids can look forward to.
Preserve The Memories Of Your Current Home
Herman also recommends taking photos and making a digital scrapbook of your old home before the move. This is a great way for kids to remember their previous home and the friends they’ve made there. Turn this into a family activity by creating a scrapbook together, giving you plenty of time to reminisce and spend some quality time together.
- Gather photos of your home, neighborhood and your kid with their friends.
- Create a scrapbook together and spend quality time reminiscing.
Tips For Moving Your Family
It’s important to include your kids in the different phases of the moving journey. According to The Child Mind Institution letting your kids help with the various moving tasks helps your kids feel like they have control in a time when their life may feel out of their hands.
Let Them Help Plan Their New Room
Get your kids excited about their new room by encouraging them to help plan it out. One way to ease the pain of a move is by letting your kid assist in a room makeover. Dr. Cowan encourages parents to allow their kids to design aspects of their bedrooms. If a full redesign is out of the question, let them pick the paint color for their room.
- Allowing kids to have a say in their room design will help them take ownership of the new house.
Have Them Get Involved In Packing
Getting your kids involved in packing up the home can help them understand and accept the process. Even if they can’t help around the house, try having them pack up their toys or artwork.
- Have kids pack up their items and help around the house, if possible.
Make Menial Tasks More Fun
Use games to help make moving more enjoyable. Try out different games that involve cleaning or packing. Set up a game where kids sort their toys by type (from stuffed to breakable) or compete with their siblings to see who can fold their clothes fastest (and neatest). If you’re trying to pair down your kids’ toys, try an incentivized game where they get points for each toy they donate, then they can use the points for prizes like a trip to the movies.
- Make boring tasks more fun by turning them into games.
Be Prepared For Travel
If you’re expecting a long journey to your new home, make sure you’re prepared for anything that could come up. This includes entertainment like games, movies and books, healthy snacks, first aid kit and a cleaning kit to address any spills.
- Prep for the journey with games, snacks, books and emergency kits.
Post-Move Tips For Kids
Once you’ve completed the moving process, it’s time for things to settle into a routine. Saying goodbye to friends can take a toll on both children and adults, so it’s critical to be observant of how your kids are handling the new move. “Parents need to keep checking in with kids and helping them get comfortable with the new house, neighborhood, and school,” says Dr. Herman.
Bring Out Their Inner-Designer
Children should be encouraged to make their mark on your new home. Set up a fun art project so they can contribute new decorations to the home or to their room. Let them help make design decisions. If you’re afraid of ending up with lime green walls in your dining room, try offering them options to choose from (i.e. “Do you like this color or this color better for the dining room?”).
- Have your children help make design choices (like choosing between paint colors).
- Set up an art project for them so they can contribute art to the new home.
Be Consistent With Routines
Just like in the old home, it’s beneficial to continue with typical routines. Habits such as eating breakfast together, reading bedtime stories, or watching a favorite television show should continue as normal. “After the move, keep a structured routine similar to what was in place while living in the old home, so children know what to expect,” says Dr. Cowan.
- Keep your routines as consistent and normal as possible.
- Maintain family traditions that you started at the previous home.
Make New Memories
Lastly, a new home is a great opportunity to make new memories. Carve some time out of your schedule to explore your new neighborhood with your kids. According to Dr. Cowan, social relationships are pivotal for a positive transition. “Try to connect them with social events as soon as possible so they can begin to build a support network.”
- Do a family art project or photoshoot and hang it up to commemorate your new home.
- Meet your neighbors and attend social events in your new neighborhood.
- Sign up for social clubs or teams so your kids can start to make new friends.
The Best Age to Move A Child
A major consideration when preparing to move with children is the age of your kids. Toddlers, elementary school-age children, and teenagers all have different needs when it comes to communication strategies. While every child is different, in general the best age to move a child is when they’re younger. This is due to the fact that younger children may not be as emotionally invested in social relationships as much as older children.
“Older children might experience a greater level of loss after a move as they already have well-established friendship groups,” according to Dr. Rebecca Cowan. Cowan, a PhD-level Licensed Professional Counselor with over 15 years’ experience in the mental health field says, “This can make the adjustment to a new community more difficult for older children.”
How To Help Toddlers Cope With Moving
Young children may still be adjusting to the typical routines for preschool, daycare, or the care of a nanny or family member. Moving to a new home can present a noticeable interruption to these carefully scheduled routines. However, keeping these routines can provide a sense of security for young children.
Be consistent with habits such as morning rituals, nap times, and bedtime schedules as much as possible. Dr. Hollman says that, “explaining that all their usual routines and needs will be met,” can help children feel loved and secure. Another effective strategy, according to Sharilyn Johnson – a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is to communicate about moving by reading children’s books about the moving process.
- Keep their routines as accurate as possible.
- Read children’s books about moving.
How To Help School-Age Children Cope With Moving
Although many believe the best age to move a child is when they are younger, it is still possible to minimize the stress and anxiety for elementary-aged kids. Two main concerns for school-age children revolve around friendships and academics. When it comes to kid’s relationships, “Remind your kids they can keep in contact with their current friends online and depending on how far away geographically, maybe even visit them,” says Dr. Hollman.
School-age children will benefit from viewing photos of the home and knowing more about the academic details of a new school. Hollman recommends that parents should visit a new school in advance and contact academic staff, such as a principal and social worker. This step can help you, your child, and the staff understand the educational requirements your child needs to succeed. If you’re looking for the right way to set your kids up for homework success, make sure you read about 6 ways to create the perfect homework space.”
- Remind your kids they can keep in contact with their current friends online or through visits (if possible).
- Visit your new school in advance and contact academic staff.
- View photos of the new home, neighborhood, town and school.
How To Help Teenagers Cope With Moving
One of the most challenging times to move with a child is when they are teenagers. “Teens are especially upset about leaving friends, maybe even a romantic relationship, as well as adjusting academically and athletically,” according to Hollman. The teenage years can be difficult regardless, so Dr. Hollman indicates that it’s best to remove judgment when listening to your teen’s frustrations.
- Listen to their concerns and frustrations and try to help where you can.
- Remind them that they can keep in touch with old friends and grow an even bigger network by meeting new ones.
- Sweeten their bittersweet goodbyes by throwing them a get together with their friends.
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Timing Is Important
While you may not always have a say in the timing of your move, there are times of the year that are more preferable than others. See what the experts have to say about timing below:
Best Times To Move With Kids
Both Johnson (L.M.F.T.) and Hollman (Ph.D.) agree that the best times to move with kids are the:
- Early summer months
Hollman states that “Moving in the early summer months before school starts with plenty of time to set up your kids’ rooms, buy school clothes, visit the school, even meet a teacher is most ideal for all ages.” If you’re moving during the summer months, check out these tips that cover how to help kids get settled before school begins.
Worst Times To Move With Kids
Time can be your biggest ally or worst enemy when it comes to moving with kids. Unlike the summer months, which may provide additional prep time, other times of the year pose challenges to compiling resources for your home, school, and extracurricular activities such as sports. Winter holidays could be tough as well if traditions are interrupted with moving plans.
The worst times include:
- The school year
- Winter holidays
While this may cause concern for those that have less input in moving timeframes, especially for those with military relocation, Dr. Cowan has observed that these children show an incredible amount of resilience. “It becomes a way of life for them,” remarks Cowan.
Kids Books About Moving And Other Resources
The resources below include more tips for parents, resources for kids and other helpful tips as well.
Best Books For Toddlers And Younger Kids
- Katie Moves by Liesbet Slegers
- Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Tigger’s Moving Day by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld
- Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge and Mary Whyte
- Moving House by Anne Civardi
- I Like Where I Am by Jessica Harper
- Bella and Stella Come Home by Anika Denise
Best Books For Children
- Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
- When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller
- Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz
- Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead
- A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn
- Tooter Pepperday by Jerry Spinelli
- Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Good Move by Cynthia Rylan
- Moving Day by Ralph Fletcher
Best Resources For Teens
- The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Teens: My Life and My Thoughts Before and After Moving Journal by Sara Elizabeth Boehm
- Expat Teens Talk, Peers, Parents and Professionals Offer Support, Advice and Solutions in Response to Expat Life Challenges as Shared by Expat Teens by Lisa Pittman
- 10 DOs & Don’ts When You’re the New Kid: A Survival Guide for Teens Starting at a New School by J. C. Tilton
- The Year My Life Went Down the Loo by Katie Maxwell
- Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
Resources for Parents
- Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home by Lori Collins Burgan
- Moving Gracefully: A Guide to Relocating Yourself & Your Family by Carol Miller Fradkin
- The Moving Survival Guide: All You Need to Know to Make Your Move Go Smoothly by Martha Poage
- The Essential Moving Guide For Families: Practical Advice To Ease Your Transition And Create A Sense Of Belonging by Sara Elizabeth Boehm
- The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness by Ali Wenzke
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