Moving with Children

How to Make a Major Move Less Traumatic on Children


Moving from one house to another is seldom easy and usually not fun for anyone, and if the parents fail to  plan  carefully, a move can be needlessly traumatic for the children. If, on the other hand, parents deal with their children's concerns and needs thoughtfully, much of that distress and discomfort can be avoided. Sensitivity and planning ease the trauma of moving.

Children see moves differently than their parents do, and they benefit much less from that change in their lifestyles, or so it seems at the time. Most often, a change in houses or communities heralds an important step forward for the adult members of the family.

The family moves because Daddy or Mommy has a great new job or promotion in reward for years of hard work. They move because financial success has allowed the purchase of a bigger and nicer house in a more costly neighbourhood. They move because they can finally afford private bedrooms for each child and perhaps a pool in the backyard. They move because of an early retirement or change in circumstances that allow them to move to a choice location.

Today, mobile and hard striving people typically live in a house for about four years and then move on as their careers of fortunes allow. That short time span is only a small percentage of the life-to-date for a 30 or 40-year-old, but the same four years is half the lifetime of an 8-year­old, and it includes almost all the years he or she can remember.

To a parent, this house may be only the place they have lived recently.  They think of it as a way station on the road of life. To kids, however, it may be the only home they have ever really known. This is their house, the place they feel safe and comfortable and thoroughly at home.

A house is much more than a roof and walls to a child. It is the center of his or her world. A move  threatens  to take  that  sphere away  and leave something totally strange in its place. The familiar friends, schools, shops and theatres, the streets, trees and parks - all will no longer exist for them. Everything soon will be strange; they will live in someone else's world.

The impact of a move on a typical child starts about the time he or she first hears about the move, and often continues for about a year, until the new house becomes home, and memories of the previous place start to fade.

It's not usually necessary to announce this big change to children immediately, although they must hear about it from you before someone else breaks the news. Most teenagers see themselves as adult members of the family, and will probably feel they have been left out if they don't hear everything from the first day, but it is probably not a good ideal to tell toddlers and preschoolers until they have to know. There is no point in making them worry far in advance.

Be sure to announce the move in a totally positive way. You might say how proud you are that Daddy's company has chosen him out of many other employees to manage a new office in Calgary. Talk about what a beautiful city Calgary is, how good the schools are and how nice the people are.

Tell truthful but very positive stories about how nice the new house will be, with particular emphasis on those features that will be  most important to your children.

If the new home is too far away to allow a visit by the entire family after it has been selected, show the children pictures of it from every angle. Emphasize the positive views and be sure to include pictures of each child's new room. 

Sugar coating will help, but since children can quickly see the negative sides of most situations, every parent must plan to deal with their children's worries, fears and sorrows. The children will lose friends they may have known all their lives. They will leave behind their sports teams, their clubs and their dance teachers. They will have to start over in a new place, making friends, becoming accepted and fitting into different groups.

Younger children need protection from fear of the unknown. Listen carefully to their concerns, and respond quickly to allay their apprehensions. It would be normal, for instance, for a young child to worry that his or her toy box and shelf of stuffed animals might be left behind. Find those anxieties and correct them.

Probably, the best tactic is to get the children actively involved in the whole process. Don't just promise to let them decorate their own rooms for example. Take them to the paint store and let them bring home color swatches. Shop for bedspreads and towels and carpets.

They must leave friends behind, so find ways to make that parting almost pleasant. Plan a going away party and let them invite their own guests. Take pictures of everyone.

Some relationships will be extremely difficult to break, and these will demand careful, thoughtful, personalized planning by both parents. How, for instance, do you move a 17- year-old 1,000 miles from her steady boyfriend?

Expect that your children may be even more distressed after the move than they were before it. The new house will not be beautiful the night after the moving van leaves, or for months after. The furniture won't fit the rooms. The curtains won't be up, and every spot on the floor will be covered with half-unpacked cartons. The children won't know anyone at school and, if you move during the summer, they may have little opportunity to meet anyone their age.  You may be faced with many more problems in your new community than they will, but remember that you can handle them more easily than they can. They will need your help, and you should plan to give them the support they need.

Make sure the children don't vegetate in front of the television. Get them outside, where neighbours pass by. Teach them to meet people and make friends.

Encourage them to participate in as many school activities as they can handle. Get them on sports teams and into clubs. And remind them that their job is also to make grown-up friends for you, too. 

If they and you aren't making new friends fast enough, throw a welcome to the neighourhood party for yourselves and invite all the adults and children on the block.

If serious emotional or attitude problems arise, however, help is usually available and probably should be sought. Ask a teacher for help. Consider professional counseling. Don't let a serious problem slide. It can get worse.

Remember that the newness will wear off. New friends will become old friends and best friends. This new house may become the family homestead the grandchildren will visit every holiday season. There will be discomforts, but in the end, everything will work out fine.


Tips For Moving With Children

  • Inform children early.
  • Keep a positive attitude in their presence.
  • Allow them to openly talk about the move and to have input in the decisions when appropriate.
  • Remind children often that although everything seems to be changing, the family is very secure as a unit.
  • Involve children in packing their personal belongings.
  • Help them accumulate memoirs of present home and friends in an organized manner.
  • Consider moving during the school session to avoid summer anxiety related to the first day of school.  Be sure they are dressed like the local children on the first day of school to avoid being labeled "different".
  • Allow children to take favourite toys or possessions with them on the trip.
  • Have games and snacks for the trip.
  • Request special education or medical information early in the process.
  • Get books about new location from franchise bookstores in your present area.
  • Get books on moving for children.
  • Get information for teenagers on areas of interest.  Begin early by involving them in groups with common interest.
  • Allow children to help with selections relating to their room in their new home.
  • Take a camera for pictures on your home buying trip if children do not accompany you.
  • Allow children to "tape" messages from friends they are leaving behind.
  • Allow children to make occasional phone calls to friends they left behind.
  • Locate school bus stops in new neighbourhood to avoid stress of first day.