Most childcare experts will agree that children thrive on routine, so it comes as no surprise that moving can be overwhelming for them. Many young children may not fully grasp what is going on, despite your best efforts to explain. Toddlers might feel confused and anxious, and older children may feel angry or upset that they had no say in the decision to move.
“Even if your children are excited about the move, don’t underestimate how difficult some of the losses may be – especially if the relocation means separating from someone they love and depend on, like a caregiver or grandparent,” advises Lori Collins Burgan, the author of Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home. If they’re old enough, allow them the freedom to ask questions and express how they’re feeling, and understand that it may cause regression and sporadic emotional outbursts for both younger and older children as they work through their feelings.
Give them time
For toddlers and preschoolers, it’s advised that you start talking to them about your impending move about a month in advance. This gives them time to get used to the idea and allows plenty of time for you to answer his questions and describe what to expect.
You may find it helpful to buy or loan some children’s books on the topic, and you could even organise an outing to your new neighbourhood if it’s nearby. This will give you the chance to explore the area and discover new places of importance together – places like their new school, a library, or even a restaurant with a great play area.
Keep it simple
Toddlers and younger children won’t understand the process, regardless of how carefully or how often you try to explain it. It’s best to keep explanations simple, and to describe what you’re doing while packing up your child’s room. Explain his toys are not being taken away for long, and remind him of this constantly. Although moving house may seem like the perfect opportunity to declutter, parting with your child’s toys will only add to the sense of loss he may already be feeling. For older children, you can encourage them to make their own decisions by providing a box for items to be donated, but don’t force the issue.
If possible, arrange to leave younger children with a trusted friend or family member while packing, as well as on moving day, so the upheaval won’t unsettle them too much.
Involve them in decision-making
Older children often lash out if they feel they have no control or say in the decision to move, so it’s vital to involve them in the actual moving process to help overcome feelings of powerlessness. “Include your child in some decision-making where appropriate, so he feels part of the adventure,” suggests Kerry Acheson, a counselling psychologist and life coach based in Plumstead, Cape Town. “Let him pick out a colour for the walls in his new bedroom, or buy him a new duvet set of his choosing.”
You could also give older children a list of things to do to prepare for the move, which might include packing his toys and books, or writing his name on boxes. Packing can be made fun by organising a “packing date”, when you get the whole family involved in packing boxes, then reward them with pizza or a movie night afterwards. This will create more positive associations around moving, and will encourage your child to see it as a fun adventure.
As tempting as it may be, avoid kitting out a younger baby or toddler’s new bedroom with brand-new furniture and linen right away. Instead, use the furniture from his previous bedroom and linen that he’s familiar with until he’s settled into the new home. Now is not the time to make big changes, like moving your little one from a cot to a toddler bed. It’s best to make these changes slowly over time, once your child is familiar with his surroundings.
Stick to your usual routine
“The first thing I did when we arrived at our new house was unpack Rosie’s bedroom, as I’d read that doing so would help her feel more secure” says Hannerie, mom to Rosie (4), who recently moved from Pretoria to Cape Town. “We made sure her boxes were the last to go onto the moving truck, and the first to come off. That way, I could ensure she had a calm, safe place to fall asleep that night – even though the rest of our house was chaos.”
It’s also important to put your regular daily routines like supper time, bath time, and bedtime into place as soon as possible. The more predictable your child’s routine, the easier it will be to adjust to the move.
Acknowledge big feelings
“Moving is a big event that can trigger a variety of emotions, so acknowledging any feelings of sadness or loss that your child may be experiencing is helpful,” says Kerry. “Even if your child is excited about the move, know that mixed feelings are likely to be present – and let him know that’s OK.”
Remember it’s possible to empathise with your child without dwelling on the negative. Your child will take his or her cues from you, so acknowledge your sadness surrounding the move, but point out all the fun, exciting aspects of your new home and neighbourhood so your child looks forward to the move.