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Moving with Children: 3 Things to Discuss with Your Child

Young family packs boxes with their infant child and prepare for a big move.
Darren Baker / Getty Images

Moving, under any circumstances, is difficult. There’s too much to do, too much to pack, and too much to load on the truck. Then there are all those things such as changing utilities, forwarding mail, and finding new people to befriend. Now, add children to the mix.

Yes, the complexities just grow when you’re moving kids, too. Depending on their ages and temperaments, children view moving as uprooting their lives or as a challenge to tackle or somewhere in-between. But, for children, moving is never trivial, and a 2016 psychological study outlines potentially dangerous outcomes for people who move often during childhood.

There are many challenges associated with making a move with children. To make the process go more smoothly, here are three things you should take the time to discuss with children before a move. In fact, do it long before moving day arrives:

  1. How the child is feeling.
  2. How his or her friendships will be affected.
  3. The safety of the new location.

Acknowledging the feelings of children before a move

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, notes that moving to a new home can cause powerful feelings within the child. Separation anxiety can be triggered due to the process of leaving familiar surroundings and the uncertainty associated with the new location.

She emphasized the importance of encouraging children to share their feelings during this time.

“Encourage your child to directly express all powerful feelings to you, including sadness, excitement, fear, and anger,” Walfish says.

She further recommends creating a scrapbook that focuses on both the old house and the new house. In the section devoted to the old home include pictures of rooms, nearby locations, friends, and family. You may even want to have them put small mementos from people and places they will most miss.

But don’t just concentrate on what’s being left behind. To help build excitement for the new destination for your children before a move, request tourist brochures and go through regional magazines or newspapers to put in things the child is excited about. Make sure to leave space for new memories to be added.

Friendships: Old and New

Keeping in touch with old friends

A common concern for children before a move, especially teens, is leaving their friends behind and concern that they’ll be unable to forge new friendships at their new school. It is important to address each of these concerns separately.

Help children brainstorm all the ways they can keep in touch with their existing friends. Depending on their age they may be able to follow each other on various social media platforms, and communicate using video messaging, email, or text.

Some children may be excited about receiving physical mail from friends and family they will be leaving behind. If this is appealing to the child, you can purchase packs of postcards and add stamps and the new mailing address to each one. Then allow your children to give them to some of their favorite people.

Be sure to purchase a set for your child too and encourage her or him to begin a regular correspondence.

Making new friends

Making new friends is more challenging because the opportunity to do so is extremely limited. Use the internet to explore areas, interests, clubs, and groups in the area or your child’s new school. Allow them to choose one or two extracurricular activities to participate in that is focused on one of their personal interests. This ensures that they meet children who have similar interests that also are age-appropriate.

Finally, when you reach the new destination, take a family walk around the neighborhood. Encourage children to reach out when they see potential friends. It won’t be easy for them, but it will establish a good habit for later in life.

Safety and security

Another common fear children of all ages face when confronted by a new move is destabilization in their feelings of safety and security. Even when they are unable to verbalize this, it becomes apparent with seemingly random meltdowns about inconsequential events.

There are two ways to help children confront their fear and provide them with a reliable feeling of security.

First, acknowledge that going to a brand-new place can feel a little scary because it is completely unknown. Ask if they would like to get to know more about the place they will be moving to. Make sure you’re prepared to give them an explanation of what makes their new city safe. There are numerous online safety resources parents can consult to find the best information about the new city.

You can also give children maps of the city with all the most important locations to their daily life clearly marked. For children with their own smartphones, there are many apps that can be used for this.

Another important way to bolster their sense of security is to keep as much of their daily routine in place as possible. This is especially important for younger children but routine is also beneficial for teens. Keeping meal times the same and ensuring children are getting enough sleep can give them touchstones for what would otherwise feel like a very disorienting experience.

Ensuring children feel comfortable and actively encouraged to talk about their feelings throughout the moving process makes it for them to address specific concerns as they come up.

By taking the initiative in discussing two of the most common of these concerns, it can give them a gateway into exploring their other feelings more openly and provide them with the reassurance that you will be there to help them through the transition.

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