Moving to a new home, especially a long distance away, can be a difficult time for anyone. An unfamiliar living space, new community, new school or workplace, and potential climate difference can all add up to put stress on both individuals and families. As adults, we can see past the temporary adjustment period to a time when things will settle down and we will feel more comfortable. For a small child, this concept is out of their grasp, therefore it is important to be very reassuring and understanding of your child’s emotions during this time.
A move can be very disorienting to a child. Some will become very clingy to parents and siblings because they are familiar and feel safe. This may result in requests to sleep in their parent’s bed, be held more often, or a refusal to perform tasks they used to do independently (such a reverting to diapers for a previously potty-trained toddler, for example).
Some ideas to help the move go more smoothly are to read books that involve moving to a new home. There are some great books out there recommended by Scholastic, such as “A House for Hermit Crab” and “Goodbye House” that are perfect for ages two through six. Older kids will enjoy family-favorites “The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day” or “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move.”
Another helpful tactic is to act out moving with the child’s favorite toys. For example, you could take a doll house and move it to a different location in your home, then rearrange the toy furniture and engage in a dialogue with your child about how the toys feel being in a new place. If doll houses aren’t your kid’s thing, try it out with Hot Wheels and a toy garage, a play kitchen set, or even building a fort out of couch cushions in different rooms.
About a month before you move, consider making a memory box or memory book of your old home. Gather things like leaves from the yard, pictures of the house (both inside and outside), pictures friends and neighbors, even a paper napkin from your family’s favorite restaurant. Then, if possible, take a preview trip to the new home and capture pictures of it, show the child where their new bedroom will be, and scope out the local playground and library.
Be sure to accentuate the positive by talking about how exciting it is, new discoveries, different points of view, and emphasizing how much fun it is to make new friends. Be reassuring that mommy and daddy are going to live there, too, and that your family is in this together. Point out that all of the child’s toys, furniture, clothes, etc. will also be making the move with him. Consistency is very important for young children. However, don’t gloss over the fact that there will be some sadness and feelings of missing the old home and friends. Explain to your child that it is OK to feel this way, that you also have those same feelings sometimes, and talk about and engage in activities to help overcome that sadness.