How to Help Children Cope With a Move

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Whether you are moving across the street, across the city, across the country, or across the world, a move is a big deal; a huge transition; a gargantuan adjustment. It’s an adjustment for the adults and most definitely an adjustment for the kids. We’ve moved a lot since our babies were born and I would love to share our tips and tricks that have helped the transition go smoother.

There are tons of ways to help children with this major transition. Here are some of ours.

  1. Set up the bedroom that they sleep in.

    As soon as possible. We all share a room, so we get our beds and toys and everything in place. This is the first space that we fully set up. I always feel like the night is when all of our insecurities and fears come creeping out; in the still and quiet. If you were bedsharing before the move, I would advise against switching them to their own room right away because they will already be struggling, and throwing in one more big transition will only make everything much harder for everyone. It won’t make the transition to their own room seamless like it might appear from afar.

  2. If you are leaving behind friends, make a photo album or scrap album of sorts.

    You can compile notes and images of family and friends that are staying behind. That way your child can look at all of them and feel secure that they will remember them. You could also get a stationary set and addresses and show them that they can write letters to their friends and loved ones.

  3. Lower expectations into nonexistence.

    Don’t expect happiness or sadness. Don’t expect cooperation on any front. Don’t expect them to be calm and rational for a time. Don’t expect your house to be clean or your to-do lists to get done completely. The reaction to the move might come immediately with tears, anger, and protest. Or it might be delayed. Your child might start having toilet accidents. Or refuse to eat foods they once liked. They might kick the cat or tell you they hate you. And these behaviors might come a couple months after you’ve settled in. Like a dam finally breaking. Which leads into the next point of:

  4. Connection

    . This is essential. Their life is being completely uprooted. Everything they know is in a box or left behind. They won’t be familiar with the house, the neighbors, the kids, the schools, the layout of the streets, or the route to take to get to a park. Connecting with them is what they will need the most. If they are lashing out in anger, that means they are screaming for connection. If they are peeing in the closet, that means they are needing connection. They will try to control the only things they have control over (toileting, eating, their voice) because the other part of their life feels completely out of control. Explaining to them that they shouldn’t act or be one way or another will matter nil because they are young and immature and need only love and connection. We like to build nests and forts with blankets and everyone pile in to that cozy safe spot. Bring snacks and food inside the fort or nest and hang out.

  5. Take it slow, in the beginning, at least.

    Try not to pack your schedules full right when you get to your new place. It could be a great distraction, but it is just delaying the meltdown that is bubbling inside your little one. Not all kids will have a hard adjustment, but I think they will all feel a bit of trepidation within their new surroundings. It could be fun to go explore parks or the new children’s museum, but letting go of expectations is essential here. They might cry in the middle of the world’s largest ball pit while everyone else is having a blast. This is ok. Take time to just let them run and play and dawdle. As Parent Coach with Raising Parents says, “take the time to step outside the car and look at the weeds at the side of the road. Pull over and have a ‘crowd surfing moment’ on your kids in the back seat.” Go slow and connect.

  6. Accept, embrace, and empathize with all feelings.

    No matter how messy or loud or intense they are, try not to distract them from these feelings. Just be with them and allow them to unload their extremely heavy emotional backpacks. As often as they need. Met needs dissipate. The need is to unload with crying and flailing in a safe and supported space. Once they can fully release that in however many “sessions”… It’s gone. They will feel lighter. They will feel free. Free to move on. Free to be cheerful. Free to embrace this new life.

  7. Continue with parts of your old routine.

    Plan ahead by packing a small “carry on” type bag of favorite toys and books. When you get to wherever you’re going, whether surrounded by boxes of nothing, you can still take a bath with your babies in the evening. Read their favorite stories. Eat their favorite snacks. You can listen to familiar music and Skype with a family member. They will feel comfort in knowing that even though a lot of things are different, a lot still stay the same.

  8. Avoid unintentionally trying to point out the positives when they comment on the negatives

    . If they miss their old backyard, or the ice cream shop that was right down the street, or the smell of the old house, try not to say things like, “but this yard is huge,” or, “I bet we will find cool shops here,” or,”you’ll get used to the smell of this house.” You don’t have to be doom and gloom, but countering their negatives with positives shows them that they should suppress their sadness or “negative” emotions. Instead, empathize. “You really miss our old house.” Encourage their tears and acknowledge their upset.

  9. Water. 

    Find water wherever you can. Drinking water, oceans, rivers, pools, or sprinklers. If you anyone is feeling crabby, find the water. Water is calming, grounding, and healing, inside the body and out.

  10. Take care of yourself.

    Moves take a toll on more than just kids. It’s stressful and exhausting. Make sure to take the time to take care of yourself and meet your needs with food, water, rest, and connection. Give yourself permission to sit near a pile of unopened boxes and do nothing but stare at the ceiling.

Short story: We had one move where ALL of our belongings were delayed due to weather…for 2 weeks! We had our clothes that we packed for our flight, a few toys, toiletries, and that was it. 2 whole weeks in a big empty house. We had to buy air mattresses and set them up together. We bought a pan and some utensils for cooking. And went and got a library card and brought home the entire children’s section from that tiny library. It was unexpected and a pain, but it allowed us to connect and make do with our predicament. And it was like Christmas when that truck finally arrived. The moral of that story (if there is one) is that we had to expect the unexpected, roll with the punches. Even if our space wasn’t set up in the comforting way that we knew, we still set up our little bed area together with our air mattresses pushed together. It was almost a good thing because it forced us to slow down and just be together because we didn’t have boxes to unpack right away or places to go (it was the middle of winter in nowhere Northern Minnesota).

Moving is an exciting and intense time. With a little mental preparation, you can help ease the transition for yourself and your kids.

Tell us in the comments about some of your moving-with-kids experiences!

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