Moving with children can be, well … stressful. My family and I recently moved into our first home here in metro Detroit. The house we decided on needed a bit of renovating, but it was something we could finally call ours. Our daughter is 3 years old, and we knew that moving from one place to another could cause stress for her as well.
There’s so much to think about when getting ready to move into a new place. Will my child like her room (and will she even sleep in it)? Is the neighborhood kid-friendly? What about transitioning them into a new school?
The questions swirl around in your mind until you actually get settled and start figuring things out. One thing we made certain before we moved was to establish some sort of dialogue that our daughter would understand – and help prepare her for what was ahead.
“Kids are a part of the family, and their feelings and thoughts should be valued as much as every family member,” says John Maakaron, a psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent psychology and works out of his private practice in Sterling Heights. “The more we discuss the aspects of the move, the more comfortable children feel in their new environment.”
Preparing for a move
Once we decided that we were going to take the leap and purchase a house, we started repeatedly telling our daughter that we were going to move to a “new” house and that she’d have a new room.
If I’m being honest, we used this as an opportunity to break old habits we fell into while parenting at our old residence and form new ones. For example, trying out a new morning and bedtime routine.
Although moving can be exciting with many new opportunities for parents and children alike, it’s also important to look for signs that your young child or teens may not feel very positive about the move. Maakaraon suggests having regular and positive conversations with children.
“Having an open line of communication and allowing a child to express any concerns in a safe environment is empowering for youths,” he says. “Understand that the child may express anger and/or sadness regarding a decision to move.”
He adds, “Sympathizing with a child can help to ease the disturbances that come with a move. Validating a child’s thoughts and expressing a positive and hopeful outlook can set the tone for how your youth responds to challenges in the future.”
Including your child in a move
Once you’ve moved past the mounds of paperwork and finally have the keys to your new home in hand, the fun (and physical) stuff begins. Bring on the packing, moving and unpacking.
Don’t forget: You’re moving with children, which means you have helpers. Give your kids age-appropriate tasks like unpacking their own room or sorting certain things like clothing or toys. This will help them feel included.
It’s also a great time to decide what’s making it to the new house and what’s not. Use this as a teaching moment, regardless of your children’s age, of how important it is to donate items they no longer have use for.
When the heavy lifting is complete and it’s time to start making your house feel like a home, allow and encourage your kids to help renovate or decorate.
Since my family and I moved to a home that needed a little TLC, we decided it was important to incorporate our daughter on certain projects like painting (yes, we let our 3-year-old help paint our walls!) or cleaning. It gave her a sense of independence while also fine tuning some fine motor skills.
The adjustment period
Moving from one location can sometimes cause anxiety, a change in attitude, increased irritability or increased sadness and/or emotional outbursts, Maakaron notes. The hustle and bustle of a move can be overwhelming for any family member – especially children.
Be aware of how your child may be reacting throughout the process so you can address the situation head-on.
One thing I have discovered during this process is that moving with children is a learning experience for both the parents and the children. Getting settled in a new environment and developing a new routine or adjusting one that worked well before is something we are trying to establish and be more consistent about in my family.
As parents, we often find that routine is key – not only for little ones, but for our older kids, as well. “Structured routines are very important for youths,” Maakaron adds. “The unknown sometimes brings with it anxiety. While a certain amount of unpredictability is OK, studies show that children who have parents who promote routines and structure do very well.”
If you and your family are considering a move or are in the process of transitioning from one residence to another, be sure to talk through the important changes that are going to occur, be aware of emotional changes in your children – and ensure the entire family can be part of this new and exciting chapter by being inclusive.