As stressful as moving is for adults, it’s not any less so for our children. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology documents that moving is tough on kids and that the effects on their mental health sometimes manifest in adulthood (like in establishing social connections and a sense of self). The effects are potentially even more problematic for kids who are introverted or anxious or have an inflexible personality, who may struggle with securing friendships and developing strong self-worth.
One important factor to consider is the loss that children experience in moving. Moving may trigger sadness around the loss of friends, teachers, and activities. Other adverse effects of moving include academic challenges, self-esteem and self-worth issues, and separation anxiety.
Military families’ kids undergoing a transfer and kids whose families are not only moving but going through a significant life stressor like divorce or a job loss may also show signs of stress and upset.
On a more positive note, a move is also an opportunity to live in and learn about a new town, meet new friends, and be exposed to new cultures and a different way of life. Moving can also provide a fresh start for children who've dealt with academic problems or issues with friends.
Whether you’re booking a moving company or checking out the new neighborhood, it's important to prepare your kids and make them part of those preparations—no matter their ages.
- Tell them why you are moving and where you are moving. Are you moving for a job offer, a sick relative, or other reason? Offer your child a clear, honest explanation.
- Explain the benefits of the move that relate to their interests. Maybe the new school’s swim team or tech club will excite them, or maybe they’ll get a new room all to themselves!
- Be honest about the life changes the move may cause. Reassure your child that their life will remain much the same with you, but be clear about changes. Let them know if they can still see old friends or visit places they like.
- Bring them house hunting with you. Let them participate in the decision-making process. Make a wish list together of some things you want in your new home, such as a bigger yard or a playroom.
Infants are usually less affected by a move because they are too young to comprehend much of it. However, your stress level or inability to care for them as you normally do can cause your baby to become irritable and restless. To make things easier:
- Maintain a consistent routine before, during, and after the move.
- Ask a family member or babysitter for help if you need it.
- Pack a bag for the first few days after you move into your new home.
- Baby-proof your home as soon as you arrive.
Toddlers may have a hard time adjusting to the move initially, but they’ll likely fall into the swing of things if you take care to create a sense of normalcy and explain the move in a way they can understand. Remember:
- Keep explanations about moving simple.
- Read age-appropriate books about moving to your toddler. Some suggestions are The Berenstain Bears' Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Louis & Bobo: We Are Moving by Christiane Engel, Goodbye House by Frank Asch, Big Ernie's New Home: A Story for Young Children Who Are Moving by Teresa and Whitney Martin, and Melanie Mouse's Moving Day by Cyndy Szekeres (all available on Amazon).
- If the new home is not too far away, make several visits to the new house and move a few toys each time so your toddler understands where their things are going.
- Pack surprises in your toddler's moving boxes, such as new toys, to make unpacking more exciting.
- Arrange for a babysitter to stay with your toddler on moving day or when you are busy with packing or moving tasks.
- Do not make big changes, such as potty training, before or immediately after the move.
- Create a sense of normalcy and establish some favorite routines as soon as possible after moving into your new home.
Elementary and middle school kids may need more time to adjust to their new surroundings. Keep an open discussion going about the move, and include them in decisions when appropriate. Some helpful tips are to:
- Illustrate where you are moving with pictures and maps.
- Keep your older kids' routines normal before, during, and after the move.
- Encourage your child to make a list of questions about moving to ask you and answer them openly and honestly.
- Read books together about moving. Younger kids (ages up to 8) might enjoy Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe by Susan Patron, Little Critter: We Are Moving by Mercer Mayer, and Katie’s Big Move! by Maria St. Inacio. Older children (up to age 12) may enjoy Moving Day by Meg Cabot, The Moving Book: A Kids' Survival Guide by Gabriel Davis, and My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move by Lori Attanasio Woodring, Ph.D.
- Make an address memory book together listing your child's friends' phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.
- Draw a floorplan of your child's new room and allow your child to help decorate.
- Pack some surprises in your child's moving boxes, such as a new toy or book.
Moving is often hardest for teenagers, as they have well-established friendships and even romantic relationships. They will need time to get used to the idea and work through any emotions they feel. To help:
- Tell your teen about the move as soon as possible and tell them honestly why you are moving.
- Give your teenager reasons to feel excited about the move. (A bigger room, a pool in the backyard, etc.)
- Encourage your teenager to write in a journal to express their feelings about the move.
- If your teenager is a senior in high school, consider letting them stay with a family member or trusted friend in the community to finish out the school year.
- Encourage your teenager to get involved in extracurricular activities in their new community so they can make new friends faster.
- Don't overreact if your teen acts angry or tries to talk you out of the move.
- Give your teen plenty of opportunities to say goodbye to their friends and encourage them to stay in touch.
If you’re moving across the country or internationally moving, you’ll want to take extra measures to help kids adjust as smoothly as possible.
- Pack a bag of favorite toys, games, activities, and snacks to keep them entertained on the car or plane ride.
- Inject fun into the road trip by playing road trip games like 20 Questions and Name That Tune.
- Pack meals, toiletries, and other basic essentials for long road trips.
- Make the road trip a vacation by visiting historic landmarks and other places of interest along the route.
- Offer your kids the opportunity to get out of the car and stretch every time you stop for gas.