10/18/2017 by Deb Federico
Preparing To Move, Helping Kids Cope
I’ve tackled the subject of moving before, in a general sense, but the fact still remains moving is one of the most stressful times for families. Now, if you are moving for a reason that involves another stressful hurdle such as divorce or losing a loved one, my heart goes out to you because I’ve been involved in a move due to divorce and I understand how difficult it is. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t do any research to anticipate all the hurdles that would accompany such a move, my own emotional roller coaster as well as my kids. So thinking back I would do many things differently to help prepare us all. Providing what I’ve learned through research and my own experience I hope you can help your little ones and big ones transition more smoothly.
Deciding to move whether it is changing jobs, needing a bigger house, better school system, or other life events there is some basic advice to keep everything gently moving forward.
The first step is to tell them. Unless you have a partner that is staying in the house kids will pick up on your change in focus and stress that comes with selling or leaving your current residence. Yes, they seem to never pay attention to you when you are asking them to pick up their room, do their laundry or shut off the computer but they quickly figure out that your recent interest in painting some rooms, fixing the leaking faucet that has been leaking for two years and cleaning things that have never been cleaned before means something is going on.
For babies, it’s true they may not understand what is going on but they will feel the effects of stress that their parents are displaying. For this reason you have to take good care of yourself and have a positive attitude. Even if you have your own worries and sense of loss find time away from the kids to express it and receive support from friends and other adults in your family.
Moving With Younger Children
Younger children may have a lot of questions and you should encourage them to ask, be truthful but don’t overload them or burden them with details that they may not comprehend and will feel inclined to share with your neighbors. Their home is all they have known. It represents security.
If you are all moving (not from divorce) reassure them that you are doing this together. Take a trip and check out playgrounds, the library and any fun places in the town. Have them go with you to look at new houses but realize they do not have the same priorities you do and a huge Thomas the Train set may be the reason they like one house over the other.
Offer to give them their own special boxes that they can decorate to pack their stuff in. This may not be the time to have them "weed through" and donate some things. In their new uncertain world they may have a melt down after you donated the items that they chose to get rid of. Take everything, you will find a better time to purge discarded toys.
If the children are school age there are additional things to keep in mind.
- Be prepared to answer questions about the new town and school. If possible tour the new school that they will be enrolled in beforehand.
- Talk to them about the move and see if there are things you can do to alleviate their fears.
- Give them some control in the areas that will be their space in the new house. Can they choose to paint their space a different color? Decorate it the way they like?
- Help them make a friend collage and collect the contact information from all their friends. Reassure them that they can continue to communicate with their friends and family after they move.
- Share with them the benefits of moving (new friends to make, new sights and activities, maybe they will have their own space in the new house).
Predictability will be your friend. This may not be a good time to buy them a new bed and bedding, or forgo any routines that you have established. Changes can wait until the transition has been completed. Try to have patience, emotional transitions like this can take months. If you have preschoolers you may find that they are clingy and regress. Older children may be more inclined to display anger and sadness. Be careful not to add your uncertainty to the mix. Children can pick up on it and use it to their advantage, at your weakest moment, to negotiate the pet you never wanted. Stay focused on why you decided to move and don’t waver. In the end the children will be better off with the consistency and confidence you show.
Moving With Teenagers
Discuss the move with your teenager as soon as you have made the decision. Include them in the conversation about why you have come to this decision, where you are planning to go and what the time frame is. It might help if you have already scouted out the area and found places that might be of interest to them or better yet take a drive, if possible, and show them.
- Ask what type of space they would like in the new house. If they are asking for their own room and it’s not possible, what other considerations could you agree to (maybe a finished basement where they could hang out with friends).
- Make plans to have their friends come for a weekend once in a while or they go visit for a weekend. It’s much easier for kids to keep in touch now with all the social media platforms so encourage them to do so.
- Be sensitive to their transition, this is a tough age to have to figure out where they will fit in all over again. You may even get accused of "ruining their life" as they grapple with the thought of losing friends and starting over.
Use your child’s current interests to plug them into the new school programs or encourage them to research it themselves, however don’t push. Give them the support they need. Just because they’re older doesn’t mean it’s any easier for them.
Don’t succumb to your own guilt, and make promises that you can’t possibly keep as a result. Your move for whatever reason will help everyone develop resilience when dealing with changes, this is a great skill. We are teaching our kids to eventually thrive on their own and major changes like this whether painful or not can help build their confidence. Remember to take care of yourself, get enough sleep, eat right and stay positive. Kids pick up on our stress and can reflect it back to us and at us in different ways. Be sensitive to the fact that their views and thoughts about the move may not align with yours and give them space to express that.