Moving Can Be Tough on Kids


Relocating your family can be exciting, but also stressful for you and your kids.

Deciding to move to a new house is a big upheaval for the entire family. But while adults tend to focus on the practical problems, a child will focus on all the losses that the move causes. This can be the loss of their friends or of a safe and familiar environment. One of the many beauties of the LDS Church is you will have a built-in new ward family that will welcome you with open arms any where you go in the world. But there will still be the stress of moving and relocating for everyone.

The degree of stress in moving is often underestimated by all concerned. Research shows that moving is one of the greatest stresses we face in our lives. In its capacity to cause psychological distress it comes only after losing a close relative in terms of severity, and ahead of illness, loss of employment and divorce.

Of course planned and managed well, distress is not necessarily the outcome. Use these pointers to ease your family’s transition so your kids more quickly feel at home.

Get Them Ready

Several experts say that how you handle the time leading to the move has a big impact on how easily your kids adapt. For toddlers and preschoolers, begin by calmly breaking the news about a month in advance — that gives enough time to process the information but not so much that your kid has the opportunity to ruminate on the changes ahead. Of course, if you’re selling your home and there are going to be months of potential buyers poking around your house, the conversation can’t wait. Whenever you talk, don’t just tell them what will be different. “Make sure you explain that the important things will stay the same, including that everything in the house, especially what’s in the child’s room, will come with you,” says child-development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents.

Allow Their Angst

Heartbreaking as they were to witness, children’s jags and tantrums are a normal response to the seismic shift that takes place in their lives, says Lori Collins Burgan, author of Moving With Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home. “Even if your children are excited about the move, don’t underestimate how difficult some of the losses may be — especially if the relocation means separating from someone they love and depend on, like a caregiver or a grandparent,” says Burgan.

Of course, all children accept things at their own pace, but most experts estimate that it takes at least six months for kids to fully acclimate to their new life.

Walk the Walk

“Your kids look to you for cues. So if you’re positive, they’ll have a sense that everything will be okay,” says Tammy Gold, founder of Gold Parent Coaching, in Short Hills, New Jersey. But for kids over the age of 3, it’s also important for them to see your feelings of sadness and how you manage those emotions constructively. Just don’t overdo the downsides. “Negativity rubs off on your child, so don’t bad-mouth the new place or compare your new home with your old one. Try to highlight wonderful things about your brand-new town so your kids will look forward to it,” Gold says.

Stick to the Schedule

Another way to ease the adjustment is to maintain some of your old routines. “Keeping up rituals like family meals or game night can build a sense of consistency that’s reassuring,” says Katie Novick, a therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Expect Regression

“A temporary regression is a natural way for young kids to deal with a stressful situation,” Burgan says, adding that I should, ahem, go with the flow and not freak out. “Intense feelings about a move can also lead to sleep disruption, appetite change, clinginess, and tantrums,” says Dr. Zelinger. “Don’t rush them into accommodating you. They will adjust at their own pace. But if those feelings persist for more than a few months or interfere with everyday activities, check with your pediatrician,” she says.

Get to Know Neighbors

Be sure to give your children lots of opportunities to meet new pals. This might be the time to let your kid sign up for as many activities as he wishes. You want your child to try out new experiences with different groups until he finds the ones who click.

Soup Up Their Social Skills

We often expect our kids to make friends on their own, but we need to show them how. Have kids practice a conversation opener at home, something like, “Hi, my name is Avery. I just moved here from New York because my dad got a new job.” It also helps to pinpoint games or pastimes that are popular in the area. If all the kids are playing box ball, say, teach your child to play. Finally, give her a little pep talk. Let your child know that wherever she goes, she will make friends because she’s such a friendly girl. Remind her how she made friends so easily at nursery school; reassure her that she’ll do the same in her new surroundings. Bolstering her confidence will keep her — and you — feeling steady.

There are many books out there on helping your kids adjust to a new move. Knowing what to expect and a little preparation will help the move go smooth.

Caroline Schaefer
Parents Magazine