Moving to a New Home: Part 1
Part 1: What to Expect
Moving to a new home can be an exciting time for a family. But it can also be a great source of stress, particularly for the children. During a move, families will go through a range of feelings, from exhaustion and frustration, to grief and loss, to excitement and happiness. But knowing what to expect from your children based on their developmental stage can help you work with them through the transition.
What to Expect from Your Children:
Explain to your children about the moving process and what changes will be occurring. They will need to know where the family is moving, when the move will occur, what school they will be going to and what their responsibilities will be when they move. Help them understand why they are moving and answer any questions they may have. The children may have misconceptions of moving, so make sure they comprehend what is happening. And be sure to validate their fears concerning moving, no matter how small they may seem to you.
Sometimes children do not respond well to the prospect of moving — especially if they were not expecting the possibility. They may fear the change, or may not want to move away from their friends. They may even blame you for their misery. Better Homes & Gardens (BHG) suggests explaining to the children that, “parents must make such big decisions for the good of the family.” And be sure to be patient with your children — it may take them awhile to adjust, especially if they are not sure how to handle their emotions. As a mom, model for them that it is OK to share feelings and fears.
Infants and Toddlers
Very young children are more attached to their caregivers than their environment, so they will most likely adjust relatively easily, assuming the primary caregivers are moving as well. However, children are sensitive to the anxiety and frustrations of others, and may therefore seem disconcerted themselves. Be sure to comfort your children when they seem fussy, and try to keep their normal routine as much as possible. Also be sure to travel with certain favorite toys, blankets and stuffed animals, and not pack them on the moving van.
Preschoolers, especially, thrive on routines, and may have difficulty with having their daily life disrupted. BHG suggests that for this age group, you should minimize any changes to their routine until they are settled into their new home (i.e. beginning new tasks such as toilet training or trying new vegetables).
Also, children of this age may appreciate the use of toys or stories in explaining what moving is about and what will be happening. You may want to find a book written for young children at the library or bookstore on the subject. Make sure your preschooler knows they can come to you for support or with questions.
According to family life specialist Lesia Oesterreich, “Often, preschoolers will express a great deal of excitement over a move, but may not really understand everything that is going on. The details of moving inevitably frustrate parents, and preschoolers tend to think that the chaos and frustration may somehow be their fault… Preschoolers also find it hard to understand what will go with them and what will stay behind. They may not realize that you are taking furniture and toys with you, and often develop great fears for their personal belongings and toys. Also, they may not realize that close friends and neighbors will not make the move.”
Watch for signs of stress, such as thumb-sucking, difficulty sleeping or bed-wetting. And let them pack a special box of their favorite things to take with them when you travel to your new home (as opposed to placing it on the moving van), so they have that bit of security and consistency with them.
Older children will have a particularly difficult time leaving their friends and way of life. BHG explains, “A major change, like moving, threatens their feelings of control and independence and can trigger strong emotions, and sometimes even behavioral problems.” Be sure to validate their feelings and frustrations, and help them work through the process. Give them back a sense of control by having them involved in the planning process. If possible, let them help decide how their room will be arranged and get them involved in the packing and unpacking process. You may even want to start unpacking the children’s rooms first in your new home, so they have that comfort from their familiar belongings.
You may also notice that your school-aged children are particularly excited about the move, but after settling in may seem disappointed. Oesterreich explains that after awhile, “they may become quite angry about the move, especially if they have not had much success forming a group of friends. School-agers still have a very active imagination and may have imagined that the move would somehow make their lives wonderful. When reality sets in, therefore, they may experience a great deal of confusion, frustration, and anger.”
Adolescents particularly will have a hard time letting go of long-term friendships and dating relationships. Oesterreich encourages parents, “If a teen can express feelings openly and work through the ‘sense of loss’ with parental support, he will be much less likely to express anger and depression in a harmful manner.” She also advises that teens have a high need to fit in, and suggests that parents wait to purchase any new school clothes until the teen has had a chance to observe local styles. And while parents should not go over-budget or buy styles they feel are inappropriate, a new outfit may give your teen an edge of confidence on their first day at a new school.
Differences in Children
As a parent, you know that each of your children are different and react to new situations differently. You will find that your outgoing children may make friends easily, while your introverted children may be slow to meet new people. Also, according to Oesterreich, parents need to keep in mind that, “Some aspects of the child’s personality may tend to get more pronounced. For instance, if your child tends to worry and get nervous, you are likely to see more of this behavior until the child begins to feel more comfortable in the new surroundings. Roller coaster emotions are not uncommon. One day your child may be thrilled and excited, then blue and depressed the next.
What to Expect from Your Pets:
Children are not the only ones who will experience stress during the move. Most pets are sensitive to emotional changes in their family and of the changes in routines. Try to console the pet, but keep in mind you may want to have them stay at a neighbor’s house or a boarding facility for the most hectic packing days. Due to the stress of packing up the home or settling into the new home, animals may even attempt to run away or just simply want to explore their new neighborhood. During this time, it will be crucial to make sure they are wearing a collar with correct identification tags (you may consider imprinting ID tags with your new address before moving and make sure they are worn during the move). Keep your animals in a carrier or closed room while boxes are being loaded and unloaded, to prevent any accidents in the chaos or escapes out the door. For more tips on keeping your pets safe during a move, visit The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) website at www.hsus.org.
Sometimes a move involves a split of the family. Whether through divorce or death, a loss in the core family unit will compound any feelings of loss within the family. If there are additional emotional pressures such as these, you may want to consider family counseling to help your family adjust and cope.
Preparing for the Move
Understanding the responses and needs of your children will prepare you for helping them through the transition. For specific tips on moving with children, continue with the second part of this article, “Making the Transition Easier.”