by Twigtale expert Allison LaTona, MFT
Summer is here, and with the warm weather and sunshine comes a lot of change for families. The structure of the year gives way to more down time and loose fun.
Kids may be anticipating a new school year, with new teachers and classrooms, or perhaps starting school for the very first time. Some parents decide to work on potty learning in the summer, as they can take advantage of the warmth outside providing more “naked time” for their children to better listen to their bodies. And perhaps most stressful of all, you may be moving this summer.
So the burning question is, how to best prepare your young children for the move?
Toddlers are remarkably resilient. However, such a big transition can be tough without preparation. The pure logistics alone are complicated enough without your toddlers’ increased tantrums, or your preschoolers’ new clinging and night disruptions to throw you over the edge. So here are some tips on what to do leading up to the move, during the move, and after the move to ease the transition.
Before the Move
For a young child, it’s best not to share the moving news with them too far in advance. Toddlers don’t have a great sense of time, so if you tell them too early, you will likely create undue anxiety. When your child begins to be exposed to concrete indicators of the move, such as visits to the newly purchased or built home, overheard conversations, or bringing out the boxes…it is time to begin to share about the transition, yet with a reassurance on what your child can count on.
Here are some things you can try to get them used to the idea of moving:
- If you can involve them in the house-hunting process, even if it’s just a little, go for it. Kids love to explore new spaces, so use this enthusiasm to help you through the arduous process of finding a new home. You can use the opportunity to get them excited about different possibilities, such as having a big tree to climb on, or a pool in their yard.
- Visit the new house (if possible). You can go through each room and explain who is going to live in each room, and draw parallels between your old home and new home. Think of things about the new home that will excite them – a porch, a yard, a playroom – so there will be something to look forward to.
- If you don’t have the luxury of visiting the new home, pictures of the new place (house, neighborhood, landmarks) will help as well. If it’s tough for you to travel to the new place, have a friend or real estate agent take pictures.
- Take pictures of your old house. Your old home is full of security and comforts, as well as experiences that your child cherishes. Even if you see the new house as a big improvement, your child doesn’t have their security created in this new home yet. You will be creating that together once you are there. Having pictures to depict these fond memories can help your child process the change better, as it allows them to visit the images when needed, giving them something to hold onto in their heart that which they cannot hold onto in reality.
When you deliver the message that the family is moving, it is important to emphasize to your child that moving means everyone in the family is moving– parents, siblings, pets. And…it also means that all their favorite things will be coming too!
All that really matters to children is the feeling of safety and security… You and their toys (extensions of themselves) are what create that. When an unprepared child sees a moving truck drive off with all their things, they do not know the truck is bringing those things to the new house…. this can be a traumatic experience for a child.
So since children need you to make sense of their experience, be sure to explain what is changing, and since children thrive on predictability and routine, be sure to emphasize what will remain the same. The family will remain the same, the favorite toys will remain the same, the routine will remain the same. And most importantly, the love that you all share as a family will continue to be a constant no matter where you live.
Expect to be met with a variety of feelings. Your child may be excited about the new “adventure”, and apprehensive at the same time. It can be helpful to talk with your child about the two feelings they are experiencing – one excited or happy, and one sad or worried – and while a bit confusing, it’s okay to have two feelings. Typically children do not express their feelings verbally, but through their behavior, such as with new night wakings, aggression, defiance or clinging. The better you prepare your child by letting them know what is happening and by giving them the opportunity to have all their feelings, the more easily they will move through the transition.
As you get closer to moving day, you may want to start talking about logistics and involving your child. You can re-enact what moving day will look like with trucks and a house. You can draw pictures of moving day with them. You can have the child help pack her favorite toys and let them decorate their box. These allow your child to process what’s happening through play, and art expression, and give them a sense of control, helping them to work through the change more easily.
Because the visualization of the new home, moving day, saying goodbye to the current home, and dealing with complex feelings are so important to ease the transition, we wrote a Twigtale book to help you with the language and the story. Since it’s personalized with pictures of your home and your family, it ends up being much more relatable and effective for your child.
The big day is finally getting close!
You’ll be spending a lot of your time packing, and are probably saving the breakable pieces for when your child is napping, sleeping or out of the house. However, there are times when your child will be home and want to help. One thing you can do is make up some games to involve your child. Get a couple extra boxes, and have your child pack and unpack her stuffed animals. Or allow your child to jump into the box. You can also have your child draw on boxes that are already packed. The possibilities to give your child a sense of control (thus safety) in this big change are endless.
At some point, carve out time to go through your house with your child and say “Goodbye” (and/or let them take a picture) of their favorite aspects of the house. You may be surprised by what they choose…”goodbye yard, goodbye apricot tree, goodbye walk-in closet where my toys have lived…”. This helps your child with closure and gives a sense of holding onto memories. There may be other things you will want to say goodbye to the day before – neighbors, grocers, friends – anyone your child is used to and may miss. Also letting your child know they can one day visit (neighbors ,etc) what’s possible can be comforting.
On moving day, you may want to take special care with a particular box for your child filled with their special things, such as their stuffed animals/blankie they sleep with and/or favorite toys. Show your child what you’re putting in the box, and then label it clearly. You can put this box in your car instead of the moving van. When you get to the new house, you can unpack this box first – this will help your child feel at home in the new house and also reinforce that all the important things are moving over to the new house.
See if you can get a babysitter, nanny, or family member to take of your child during the rest of moving day. You’ve got enough to do – packing, supervising movers, ensuring nothing is left behind – and you don’t want to be chasing a child around too! Parents tend to be so distracted during this time, it is helpful to have someone who can give their full attention to your child to minimize negative behaviors.
Settling into your new home
At the new house, try to get the most important pieces of your child’s room set up first. Unpack the box with her favorite toys and get those big pieces of furniture in. Let them make some choices, such as where their train set should go, to help give them a sense of control in their new room. If your child is comfortable and getting used to her new room, that’ll free up time for you to move in the rest of the house.
Next…set up the kitchen, which may involve a trip to the grocery store. It’s helpful for your child to know that she can get drinks, snacks, and food just like she did at her old house. This will be another important step in building confidence in the new home.
Over the course of the first week, spend a lot of time in your child’s new room to help ease the adjustment. Engage with your child in floor-time with their favorite forms of play, such as blocks, trains, dolls, playing house. You are joining their world of play in their new room and creating comfort there. This will help smooth your child’s adjustment to their new room and minimize sleep disruptions that can occur with the change. You are building security in their new space.
Also, create new rituals in your new home that your child will enjoy and help them fall in love with the change, such as climbing the new tree in the yard, or sitting on the porch swing in the afternoons with lemonade.
Finally, don’t try to do everything at once. Find time within the first day or two to take your child to a nearby park or just explore the neighborhood on foot (or by bike). Hopefully you can point out some of the landmarks the child saw in your preparatory photos.
On a similar note, don’t try any big changes on the child on top of moving, like potty learning or moving from a crib to a bed. You may actually see some regression after a move; this is completely natural. Your child is adjusting to a new world.
While a move can be stressful to plan and manage, with a bit of advance planning, you can prepare your child for the big change for a smooth transition. The key is to communicate what will be the same and what will be different, acknowledge the variety of feelings, and clue your child in on the “plan” so even on a chaotic day, she will recognize what’s happening. Your child may actually enjoy the adventure! Best of luck!
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For more on Allison, check out http://www.twigtale.com/author/allison-latona-mft. For more information on Twigtale, click here – http://www.twigtale.com. To browse our books, go to http://www.twigtale.com/our-books.
Allison is a noted parenting consultant and psychotherapist. Her work empowers parents with the vision and tools to create thriving and fulfilling family lives, and fosters long-term connections within a supportive community.
Allison has nineteen years of experience counseling children, families, couples and individuals, and has facilitated groups in private practice, as well as at Santa Monica’s Babygroup with Donna Holloran, MSW, for over a decade. With fourteen years “in the trenches” raising two young children of her own, Allison’s personal path complements her professional credentials.
Twigtale helps you make personalized photo books to help your children through important developmental milestones and difficult transitions.
Moving Guide - Preparing Your Child for a Big Move was originally published on June 30, 2013. Modifications to style, arrangement, and linked sources were made on January 11, 2016.