I remember a period in our lives, a little over five years ago, that was filled with stress, sleepless nights and a feeling of trepidation that life would never feel settled and sane again. Even though it was our second move, we didn’t sail through the process like veterans. The first time, we moved with an infant. This presented its own set of challenges. The second time, our family had grown. We transplanted a three-year-old and a five-year-old. Our greatest worry this time around was due to our oldest leaving his circle of friends to ride a bus full of unfamiliar faces, having to start kindergarten without attending an “orientation”.
Moving is as hard for kids as it is for adults — maybe even more so. A move can be unsettling for infants as well as teenagers. It’s not so much the particulars which accompany Moving Day, but the fear of the unknown once you’ve gotten where you’re going. Many parents find that unpacking and finding a new pediatrician is the least of their worries. The best you can do is to make things as comfortable and familiar as possible for each family member.
The First Night The first night in your new home can become an adventure if you plan ahead. Hide a wrapped gift (such as a new board game or set of darts). Set up a scavenger hunt to find it. Then play the game on your first night. You can also plan a “mock” campout. Chances are your furniture hasn’t arrived yet. Pack a picnic basket filled with sandwiches and snacks. While munching on popcorn, discuss what you’re looking forward to doing in your new home. Plan to spend the night in your sleeping bags. The object here — make that first night special and memorable.
Infants and Toddlers For infants and toddlers, maintaining a routine is the best way to keep them calm and comfortable after Moving Day. All parents know that a child who has not had a scheduled nap or meal will be cranky and out of sorts. Mealtime and naptime should be at the same times of day as always.
Your baby’s immediate environment should also be familiar. Hopefully, you’ve planned ahead and your child’s comforter (special loved toy or blanket) and any other special items are not on the moving truck — they are with you. Set up your baby’s room first. If your baby sees what she has always seen from her crib (same musical mobile, toys and sheets), she will feel at home. Even infants can sense a parent’s stress level, so remaining calm around your infant or toddler is essential.
Preschoolers A preschooler will adjust fairly well to new surroundings if you have taken the time to maintain his typical schedule and keep his immediate environment similar to his old one (his room, playroom, etc.). Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. and Janet Gallant instruct parents to keep things as familiar as possible in their book, The Parenting Bible: The Answers to Parents’ Most Common Questions. “Immediately after the move, resume important family rituals like bedtime stories and evening snacks,” they urge. “And remember, in the midst of unpacking, he needs extra time, reassurance, and love.” Children this age make friends easily and time spent with other children his age will ease the transition. In the suburbs, take walks around your new neighborhood looking for other moms and tots. They are not hard to find — just look for the play equipment and tricycles and you’ll know where they reside. In the city, introduce yourself to the other moms and set up a playdate with those who have a son or daughter close in age to yours.
School Age Children The biggest challenge for your school age child will be adjusting to and navigating his way around school. Therefore, make sure you visit his new school before his first day. If possible, visit with his new principal and new teacher and take a tour of the inside of the building. Take him to the playground one afternoon as well. If your child is familiar with his new school, his first day won’t seem so daunting. If the school year has already started, the teacher will have already learned her students’ strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It may help to have your child write a letter to his new teacher listing things such as his nickname, his favorite sports, his favorite subject in school, or any other information that will help her get to know him better. Children this age still take the lead from their parents. Goldstein and Gallant remind parents how important it is to try to maintain an upbeat attitude even during those stressful times which are inevitable directly following a move. “Parents’ attitudes greatly influence the success of a move, since a child will often adopt their viewpoints as his own. If they’re [the parents] cheerful about going to a new home, he’ll accept inevitable changes more easily than if they’re nervous and upset.”
Teens Teens do best when they feel that they are somewhat in control. Allow your teen to decorate her room. Let her pick out the new paint or wallpaper and help you put it together. Suggest that she surf the Internet for information about her new school and for after school programs and activities in your new location.
Your teen’s biggest challenge will be making new friends. This will also be what is most important to her. However, developing new friendships is difficult at this age, and “fitting in” is extremely important. It will be necessary that she meet as many new people as possible and join peer groups such as a drama club, a sports team or a church group. Meeting other teens with the same interests will increase the chances that she will connect with someone.
As the “new kid”, your teen will need to rely on a positive self-image as well as encouragement from peers back home. Therefore, it’s important to allow your teenager to maintain friendships from the past. Buy her some new stationery so she can correspond with old pals. Better yet, if she’s collected email addresses, she can send notes via cyberspace. If possible, allow an old friend to visit her in your new home. This will let her know that she can stay connected with the friends she grew up with. In her book, Thinking Parent, Thinking Child: How to Turn Your Most Challenging Everyday Problems Into Solutions, award-winning author Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D., points out, “While friendships may become less intense with physical distance…keeping in touch, at least at first, will soften the blow. If the distance separating friends isn’t too far to make visits prohibitive, this is one of the most helpful things you can do.”
Children of All Ages It’s also necessary to remember that children of all ages probably have a wealth of conflicting feelings about the relocation. They may be both excited and fearful, just as you may be. Goldstein and Gallant remind us to empathize with our children’s feelings, to keep the lines of communication open, and to watch for signs that a child is not coping well. “The best way parents can help their child is by listening to him talk about the move. If he can express his fears, anger, and sadness, he’ll feel better. If he believes his negative feelings are unacceptable, he’ll hide them and express his anxiety in other ways.” They warn parents to watch for signs of depression such as moodiness, crying frequently, loss of appetite or increased sibling conflict. The most important thing you can do is to let your children know that their feelings count and that you will be there to help them through the transition.
Books to help kids cope with a move: PRESCHOOL/ READ ALOUD: Boomer’s Big Day, by Constance W. McGeorge (Chronicle Books) Why Do We Have to Move?, by Cynthia MaGregor and David Clark (Citadel Trade) Goodbye House, by Frank Asch (Prentice-Hall) The Berenstain Bear’s’ Moving Day, by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House)
SCHOOL AGE: Goodbye, House: A Kid’s Guide to Moving, by Ann Banks & Nancy Evans (Crown Publishing Group) The Moving Book: A Kid’s Survival Guide, by Gabriel Davis (Little, Brown and Co.) First Day Blues, by Peggy Anderson (Parenting Press) Alexander, Who’s Not (Do Your Hear Me? I Mean It?) Going to Move, by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books)
TEENS: Footsteps Around the World, by Beverly D. Roman, Dalenee Bichel & Michael J. Cadieux (BR Anchor Publishing)