Moving to a new city is an exciting prospect for the whole family. You may be moving due to a new job, to be closer to family or simply to enjoy a new adventure as a family. 63% of Americans have moved at least once in their lifetimes and many of us move while our kids are still young. Moving as a child can be exciting but it can also be an anxious time. The idea of leaving everything you know and the place you feel safe can be scary, so it is important to consider the impact on the kids and prepare the move accordingly.
A study of 50,000 children carried out by researchers at Queens University Belfast found that kids who move many times during childhood are more likely to experience mental health problems. While this shouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind when planning a big move, it is worth keeping in mind how your kids are coping with the transition. Older children were also found to struggle more as leaving behind friends and moving schools can be emotionally difficult to deal with, so parents need to take the time to consider their kids’ reactions to the move and support them through the change.
As Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, explains: “Children are young and new to the world, and changing a child’s ‘safe space’ is a big deal.” For many, their home is their safe space and changes can be hard to cope with.
Below, we’re looking at how to position your big move and how to make it as successful as possible with kids of different ages.
Positioning the Big Move
The excitement (and stress) of moving can make it difficult to focus on your kids’ needs at all times. It is important not to neglect how they may be feeling and once the move is guaranteed, let them know as soon as possible. It is important to be careful about the language you use and to provide enough information to help the kids process and look forward to the move. If all you say is “We’re moving to Boston” all they will think about is what they’re leaving behind: their neighborhood, friends, close family, their bedrooms, their schools, and anything else they currently value. If you instead give them information about where you’re moving to and emphasize what they’re moving towards, this removes the focus from what is being left behind. Let them know all about:
- Their great new school
- The benefits of your new home – what new amenities will you have? Is the yard bigger?
- If the climate, weather, or landscapes will be different and ready to be explored
- Exciting new attractions in your new city – museums to visit, areas to explore, and people to meet
Kids also need things to be laid out for them to help them feel safe. Even older kids will want to be sure you’re all moving together, including the pets, and their treasured toys and possessions.
Where you are moving can influence how the kids feel about it too. If you’re moving from the country to the city, then it is important to take the time to let your kids know about the differences in the new lifestyle. It will of course be exciting, but it may also be worrying and overwhelming and you need to be on hand to support your children through this experience. Big cities offer huge opportunities for the whole family and if you have the chance to make a few visits before your move, this can help prepare the kids too. Visit the attractions and ask the kids what they’d most like to see in your new area and give them the chance to explore. The more excitement you can build around the move, the easier it will be to settle them in.
Successfully Moving with Kids: Age Group by Age Group
Children in different age groups will experience moving home differently and your approach to supporting them should differ too. Below is a breakdown of considerations for each age group and how to ensure they experience the move as positively as possible.
Moving With Babies and Toddlers
Babies and toddlers are often at the easiest age for a move when it comes to their emotional wellbeing, but they are still a lot of work. Stick to your usual routine as much as possible as younger kids still sense change. Also, remember it is important to give them simple yet honest explanations of what’s happening.
Setting up their room on Day One of the move is absolutely essential for helping them settle in. They need their safe space where they recognize all of their belongings and even if it isn’t 100% complete, familiar items such as their bedding, favorite toys and books should be close at hand to help them settle into their new home.
Routine really does matter, especially with the youngest family members, as one-day off-spec can completely undo months of hard work. You may not be able to stick to everything like clockwork but get as close as you can and keep your usual bedtimes and mealtimes wherever possible. Obviously, this is more difficult when you’re moving across the country, but you can still try to maintain the same routines for meals and bedtimes at least.
Moving with Preschoolers
Preschool kids are notoriously full of questions so be ready for the barrage! Most preschool kids will have an idea of what’s going on once you’ve told them, but might not be able to practically imagine or envisage it. For example, they may ask questions such as “will I be leaving my toys behind?” and “are we going to be living in both houses?”. Be patient, be prepared and always answer honestly.
Talk as much as you can and as much as the kids want about the moving process. Let them know exactly what is happening so it isn’t a shock. Kids do hear whispered conversations and it isn’t nice to feel left out, even if you’re three. If your kids appear anxious, then highlight the positives of the move, talk about your exciting new neighborhood, the chance to make new friends, or living closer to Granny and Grandad, whatever works for your family.
Visual aids can be really useful for helping preschool kids understand what is going on. If you can, let them visit your new home before you move and take photographs there. You can also take photos of your new neighborhood and use these photos to keep reminding them of their new home, rather than letting them focus on the home they’re leaving. Google Maps can be a fun way of showing them around your new area, too.
Preschoolers love to “help” and letting them be involved on the day of the move can be useful to calm any remaining anxieties. Let them pack their own bag and help with boxing up their room and favorite things. They may even enjoy the task of sorting through what’s going in the trash and what’s going in the van.
You can also take advantage of young kids’ love for all things cardboard and let them make the most of the empty boxes when you’re unpacking. They will keep themselves busy for hours with box forts, cardboard boats, and caves. You can be arranging your new home and they’ll be none the wiser until it’s all done.
Moving with School-Age Kids
School-age kids are going to be hardest to convince of the move’s benefits. They feel safe and happy in their current home, and the idea of leaving everything they know and love is much harder to distract them from than younger kids. It may seem like they’re never going to get over it, but you know they will and there are ways you can help them along the way.
It is important not to take anything they say or do personally. They’re acting out because they’re worried about the situation. Plenty of kids will refuse the idea of moving and rather than arguing, the best response is empathy. Explain that you understand their feelings but take the time to explain the reasons for the move and the all-important benefits.
The chance to say goodbye is also really important for older children who may feel they have firm friendships and people they will really miss. Giving them the chance to spend time with their friends, make or buy them leaving gifts or spend a little extra time in their favorite locations in your current neighborhood is important. Make sure you set aside time for them to get a bit of closure before moving on.
We’re also lucky enough to live in a world that is connected and switched on 24/7. If old enough, you can set your kid up with their own email account or allow them access to your cell. Make sure you collect their closest friend’s email addresses or their mom’s phone numbers and then they can connect even when you are thousands of miles away. FaceTime and Zoom are great tools for hanging out and kids can also spend time online playing games, just like they did when they lived in the same neighborhood. Staying connected with their friends will help older kids manage the move and not feel too alone.
Managing Multiple Moves
Some families will have to endure several moves while the kids are still young. Military families and those in some other professions must get used to the regularity of moving from town to town. Kids do get used to it, but you may find some moves are more difficult than others, especially as the kids get older. The best ways of managing multiple moves and keeping kids upbeat include:
- Keep it real – be honest and transparent. Kids appreciate real talk and if regularly moving is going to be a part of their childhood they deserve to be ready for it.
- Provide stability – so you can’t offer the kids a stable single location to live in, but you can preserve stability in other ways. Stick to the same beloved vacation spots, let them maintain their favorite sport or other passion wherever you go.
- Stay patient – a child who was fine moving 2 years ago may find it really difficult this year and you have to be ready for this. Keep the faith and do all you can to support your child if they’re finding it difficult. Additional support from school counselors or other professionals can also be useful if your kid is having a real hard time.
One thing you should never forget is the importance of being as open and honest as possible. At all ages, your children will have questions. Whether they’re as simple as “can teddy come?” or more complex like “how will I make new friends?” you should be on hand with help, advice and support. Share how you feel too, and your kids will appreciate this, you probably have some misgivings and worries, just like they do. Ultimately, your role is to make them feel safe and happy. The best way to do this is to offer them as much information as they ask for and be honest in every answer you give.
Moving home is one of the most stressful things for a family. It takes considerable time, effort, and money and it’s hard not to become overwhelmed yourself, let alone for the kids. Moving to a new city is an exciting adventure and the kids will soon realize this. Within months, if not weeks, they’ll be settled in their new schools, have new friends, and be so pleased you’ve made the big move.