When you were a kid, did you ever feel like your parents made so many decisions regarding your life and you had absolutely no control? It’s a frustrating feeling for children, but totally avoidable. I hate to break it to our parents’ generation (and no offense, mom, if you’re reading), but it is perfectly acceptable for children, even very young ones, to have some say in decision-making. Whatever your parenting style, I promise you, giving children a sense of control is a gift that will continue to benefit them for years to come. And let’s be honest, it makes life easier on you too by minimizing tantrums!
When a family decides to move, whether by choice or because of a predetermined reason, there are steps moms and dads can take to help the kiddos feel secure and maybe even excited for the changes in store. Concerns about moving kids–whether to a big kid’s room from the family bed or cross-country–make a pretty frequent appearance here at The Other Baby Book. And not to expose myself as a parent who has “forced” multiple moves on my daughter (5 homes in under two years…..don’t ask), but I do consider myself somewhat experienced in the “helping kids to adjust to change” category.
So here are my suggestions, none of which are mind-blowing, but all of which are manageable in a variety of settings. (Bonus: these are compatible with different parenting styles and are flexible in structure.)
- The official announcement: whether your child is 10 months or 10 years, start talking about the move in a positive, excited voice. This is not the time for baby-talk, but a very clear and concise introduction to the move. Then continue to talk about it on a daily basis. By doing this, you are making the change seem a normal and routine upcoming event, not something to be afraid of.
- Create a vision: Paint word pictures for your child of what their new home (or new room) will look like. If you have photos or can visit in person, all the better. The idea behind this is that the child will begin to internalize and accept the upcoming change. Continue discussing and dreaming about the new place all the way up through the move.
- Offer choices: Give your child (or children) the opportunity to make decisions during the moving process. They can be small, i.e. “do you want your new room to be yellow or purple?” or help build excitement: “would you rather have a tree swing in the backyard or a sandbox (or both?), or even build comfort: “which stuffed animals should we take along for the car ride to the new home?” Choices give children a sense of control and help them feel involved in the process.
- Give responsibility: Even the youngest toddler can help pack boxes, and in turn, build a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the family. Ask older children to photo-document the old home or old sleeping arrangement and make a photo album. If you’re moving a child to their own room, let them start taking naps in the new room and arrange their things before expecting them to sleep overnight.
- Avoid negative conversations: As hard as it may be, keep the stress, arguments, and drama away from your children. They do not need to experience and be a witness to it or to associate change with negative feelings. It’s okay to be scared and acknowledge that to your kids, but keep your overall tone positive and reassuring. We cannot expect our kids to adjust well if we aren’t ourselves!
- Maintain routine: Keep your children on their routine as much as is humanly possible. Naps should be, more or less, at the same time. Kids who continue getting plenty of sleep through naps and overnight will be able to deal more effectively with change. Provide healthy snacks and well-rounded meals, even if you need to eat out. Too much fast food and junk food = cranky kids and wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels. Do yourselves all a favor and make a game plan in advance as to how you’ll find healthy meals if you’re traveling far. And this advice is for you too, mama! Just speaking from experience, drinking too much coffee and having too few healthy meals is a recipe for feeling out of control and lacking the energy so greatly needed during a busy time.
- Build trust and respect: Finally, provide plenty of opportunities for your kids to voice their concerns and have a mommy or daddy to lean on. Acknowledge that their feelings and anxiety are normal and that you are there for them, no matter where you live. Make sure a special stuffed animal or comfort object is available throughout the entire process. And by all means, don’t forget plenty of hugs and kisses!
Have you ever moved with kids and what was your experience?