Sooner or later, many families face the prospect of moving. Moving can be stressful, especially for children. I recently found myself moving with my two young Bears and, although the experience has been a success, the journey was a little tough, especially for our moving companion, Grandpa. For parents finding themselves thinking about moving, or even in the middle of it, I wanted to share with you some helpful tips to decrease the amount of stress this task poses on young minds.
After all, toddlers and preschoolers have a limited capacity to understand the reasoning behind major changes in their routines, and as parents, it’s our job to help them cope as best we can. When I was a teen, my family moved a lot; most people did. It would be for work or financial reasons and was always done for the best. But as a kid with friends and an established way of life, it didn’t always feel like it was for the best. Sometimes I would be upset. Sometimes I would be fine with it but one of my siblings would be upset. My parents would always explain why we were moving, being honest about the truth behind it.
This helped greatly with the emotional angst of a budding teenager. But now, as a mother of a preschooler and toddler, how would I explain moving? I knew I wanted to be honest as my parents were with me, but the language I would have to use would need to be simple and clear. I tried a bunch of communication strategies (listed below) and have notes as to how successful I thought they were in preparing my children for the move. I also listed a few scenarios I did not do in order to allow my children to settle into their new home comfortably.
Things I/We Did:
• I let my children help pack their clothes and toys; we completed this task while I repeated that the boxes are coming to the new house with us, not being thrown out. This was particularly helpful to my Grizzly Bear, a slightly emotional preschooler.
• I acted out the move with a toy ride-on truck and possessions; this was completed with my Polar Bear, a curious toddler, in mind. This got a little carried away with the road trip music and ended in a friendly wrestling match between my boys as they both wanted to be in the driver’s seat.
• We went to see the new house a few times and I showed them pictures of it. I explained which room would be their new room, which room was mine, and where the dog was going to sleep so they knew we were all moving in together.
• When arranging my children’s furniture in the new room, I tried to arrange it similarly to how it was at the old house; I hung the same posters above their beds and kept the same layout for comfort and familiarity, especially for when they woke up at night.
• We explored the new neighbourhood together and even got a small treat at the new corner store. I decided this was important even if my Bears were too little to go out alone; I felt it still gave them a sense of home and comfort.
• Lastly, I invited over family and friends a few nights after the move: the familiar faces let the Bears know that life hasn’t changed all that much. I found the communication techniques I used worked well. Quite a few of these communication tips came from KARA’s “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” program and I adapted them to my home switching journey.
For example, when I was a new Mom and had a baby Grizzly Bear, I was told that Santa is a scary figure to young children and that there was one way to introduce Santa without causing tears. I was instructed to show my son a picture of Santa every few days the month leading up to Christmas.
This would help familiarize my son with this new character and by seeing the smile on my face while I talked about him reassured my child that this old, bearded man with a booming laugh was trustworthy. Thus, by showing my newest toddler, my Polar Bear, pictures of our new home, he too would have a friendly, familiar feeling towards it.
Things I/We Didn’t Do:
• We didn’t talk about the move months in advance of it happening; it was a little spur of the moment but I feel I wouldn’t have told them even if I knew myself, as it could create unnecessary anxiety. As parents, we need to plan, but for children so young, it may have created a daunting, unpleasant feeling.
• I did not pack up my children’s possessions while they weren’t watching; I wanted to keep trust and honesty at the forefront of this adventure and taking all their things away without explaining where they were going could cause stress and distrust.
• I did not purchase new furniture; I felt that old furniture would be comforting and familiar to my Bears and new furniture in a new house would be too much for them.
• Although my toddler is ready to transition from a crib to a toddler bed, I felt like waiting until he is comfortable in his new home would be less stressful for him.
• Lastly, I did not drop my Bears off with a new daycare the same week I moved: I was fortunate enough to have a family member care for them, allowing them time to adjust to the new home first. This is where poor Grandpa came to the rescue. Yes, Grandpa, poor Grandpa. I recall the third day after leaving my little Bears with him. “No, they’re good kids, Marnie. They don’t like being in the same room as me, but they’re good kids. Well, I’m off for a nap.”