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To Move or Not To Move (And What To Say To Your Kids)

To Move or Not To Move (And What To Say To Your Kids)

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

You’ve answered my questions in the past with great advice. I’m hoping maybe you can help with this question as well.

I am a loyal reader of your blog and know that you and you husband are thinking about moving. I currently live in Southeastern PA, just north of Philadelphia with my husband and 2 kids (1 & 3.5 years old. We have been here for 4 years and have no family in the area and a limited support network of friends) but am originally from near Syracuse NY. I have just received a job offer that would allow us to move back to NY and live in the same city as my family (yay for a support system!). We are leaning heavily towards going . The job would start the first week in August which would give us just about one month to pack everything and move. We would probably live with my parents for a month or 2 before settling into our own house\apt.

So here come my questions. How do I go about telling my 3 year old and when? Will it be bad to live with my parents and then essentially move again in 2 months? Is that totally going to mess with the kids? How will you deal with it if/when you and your family move?

Looking forward to any advice you have you offer.

-Country road, take me home

I’m sorry this answer is coming so close to your target move date, so close it might render itself officially useless, since I imagine you’ve chosen a course of action by now. And are likely well into the moving process, if not through it completely.

But back when I first received your question I was at a complete loss on how to answer, because we were also flailing around in a “should we move? should we not?” limbo and were DEFINITELY not ready to bring the subject up with our kids. I had no advice to give, other then I think you should take the job, make the move, and let things shake out however they shake out.

Here’s what we did right, I THINK:

1) We reminded ourselves (over and over and over) that kids are resilient. Moving can be a stressful and scary thing, but families do it all the time, for a bajillion million reasons.

2) We avoided talking about the subject in front of the kids while it was still a “maybe” or a “what if.” There was no sense in them overhearing us talk about it in the abstract.

3) This is more applicable to kids older than yours, but once we more or less made up our minds about moving, we took the boys on a day trip to our potential new area and made it an extra positive experience. A DVD on the drive up! Hot dogs with fries for lunch! Playgrounds! Throwing rocks in a creek! Buying LEGO at a funky little toy store, then ice cream cones! They (naturally) were all, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” as soon as we got home. That’s the opening we used to introduce the idea of living there all the time.

Here’s what we did kind of wrong:

1) We had one talk with all three kids, mostly aimed at our 6 and 9 year old. Our newly-turned 4 year old, unfortunately, was not really following the conversation but gleaned just enough to get completely freaked out.

The older boys needed ALL the information. They wanted to understand the moving process and what exactly was going to happen every step of the way. From us getting our house ready to sell, to the stages of the sign in the yard (Coming Soon, For Sale, Under Contract, Sold) — they wanted all of that explained. Our little one did not need this overwhelming amount of detail, and couldn’t understand most of it. (Me describing an Open House = him thinking a whole bunch of scary strangers would come into his house, play with his toys, and NEVER LEAVE.)

We had a redo, though. and NOW I’m confident he understands what’s happening in a less scary way. So with your little ones, go easy. Don’t inundate them with a ton of information about what’s going to happen (especially since there are so many unknowns) and focus on what’s a constant: Mommy and Daddy love you and we’re all staying together.

Once we had a contract on our new house, I created a personalized book for him via TwigTale called “Ike is Moving.” TOTALLY recommend this! TOTALLY wish I’d known about this service for all the other Big Life Moments in their lives, like new babies and schools and potty training!

(Note that I used a promo code for a free book given to me by Isabel of Alpha Mom, not as any sort of sponsorship/ad deal, but just because she thought I might find it helpful for poor little Ike. There was no obligation to recommend or even mention it.)

I uploaded photos of us, our pets, our current house and his new one and tweaked the script of the book (which was written by a childhood development expert) just enough to be relevant to our family’s situation and his particular fears. It arrived super-quickly (whew!) and Ike was absolutely delighted by it. (He’s the star! There’s his room! There’s his new swing set at the new house!) It doesn’t shy away from the fact that moving involves a lot of “goodbyes” but is honest, upbeat and reassuring. I think a similar book would be GREAT for your 3 year old. Get your parents to send some photos of their house and them and incorporate that into the book.

(I’d leave out the part about moving AGAIN in a month or two for now. Again, toddlers and young preschoolers will get information overload. Do another book or your own photo scrapbook once you find a more permanent housing situation and present that then.)

A big move into temporary quarters isn’t ideal, but I certainly wouldn’t turn down a great job and a move back to a support system just because it’ll required a month or two of time with Grandma and Grandpa. Go back to Number 1: Kids are resilient. You’ll get through this. You’re just doing what’s best for your family in the long run, even though there might be some bumps and disruptions in the short term. (I’m guessing sleep with your younger one. With a baby the bumps and disruptions almost ALWAYS come down to sleep. It’s okay. It’ll work out, eventually.)

I don’t know how our move in a few weeks (OMG I SHOULD BE PACKING) will impact or “mess with” my kids. They are leaving behind good friends and great schools and lots of places/things they love about where we live now. We have every reason to believe they will have all of that in our new neighborhood as well, plus their own rooms, a big yard on a cul de sac, a swing set with three swings and a climbing wall, plus a really funky toy store that sells vintage LEGO Bionicle. We have assured all of them that while we know they’re excited and that makes us happy, it’s completely okay to also feel sad or nervous. They can talk to us about whatever they are feeling, and it won’t make US sad or mad. It also won’t change the reality of what’s happening, because I can’t change that. We’re making this move because it’s what’s best for ALL of us as a family, and we’re all in this together. We’ll make it through and things will shake out in the end.

(Also recommended: Pixar’s Inside Out. Probably more for you than them. Damn, did that movie nail the experience of moving away, and the dangers of not letting yourself feel what you feel, when you need to feel it?  And not letting your children feel what they feel. Just be prepared to weep copiously.)

So I know we have a LOT of families who have done a LOT of moving/relocating with young children. Any addition (or contradictory) advice for Country Road here?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Erin Withans

    July 29, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I just wanted to say my family did pretty much this exact same thing when I was 3 and my brother was 6, and it was fine.
    I didn’t entirely get what all was going on, that I recall (I remember having a very casual goodbye with my neighbor friend, and not understanding until later that we weren’t going to be next door anymore, but it never made me panic or be upset). We stayed with my Gammy and Gampy until the new house was ready, which I think was a month or two, but I just remember it being all awesome sleepover with grandparents time.

    I don’t remember much about it, so it didn’t traumatize me in any way. The bits I do remember were fun and exciting, especially because we were moving closer to family. Your kids will be fine, even if it’s a little scary in the moment.

  • Katharine

    July 29, 2015 at 11:19 am

    This is us! We moved to Boulder from Portland mid May. My husband was given two weeks and so it happened FAST. Luckily my mom lives here and so we have been staying here and are closing on a house this weekend (hallelujah!) I actually think that staying with grandparents for the older toddlers is a boon. This is our 3rd move with our almost 3 year old and he has loved getting to see his nana and aunt and nana’s dog every day. The first two weeks there was more whining and he needed extra tlc but it’s really been the best way to ease into a new area for him. He’s a little confused why not all of us are moving into the new house this weekend but I think regular visits will make that better quickly. I hope it goes well for you! Oh and a practical thing I have been doing for him is drawing the new house, moving truck and our car and then asking him to “draw” all the things that will be coming along. It seems to be reassuring him we won’t leave his beloved baby brother or bkanket behind ha!

  • Bethany

    July 29, 2015 at 11:26 am

    I have no advice on being the mom of kids that are moving, but my dad was in the military, so we moved every 6 months to 3 years. College was the first time I’d kept a mailing address more than three years! So from the kids’ point of view, here’s what I’d recommend:

    1. Make it into as much of an adventure as you can. “Let’s go see what our new grocery store looks like! Where should we put your bed?  I’ll bet you’ll like playing at this park!”

    2. Acknowledge the hard feelings. I second seeing the movie “Inside Out,” but I also second the tissue recommendation. (Especially if you are pregnant, you’re spending your first full 24 hours away from your firstborn, and you had a traumatic move when you were 11. This disclaimer brought to you by the Weird Lady Sobbing In The Movie Theater.)

    3. Be sure your kids understand that when their things go onto the moving truck, they will actually see them again at the new house!

  • Diana

    July 29, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I would not recommend taking little kids to see Inside Out, but would totally suggest you see it. My 3.5 year old found the movie scary and confusing and had no idea what it was about and who those weird people were. Most of the movie focused on the sad parts of moving and there was about 10 minutes at the end where she settled in and was happy in the new place. It did make me weep and helped me understand the emotional changes my kids will go through as they age.

  • EmilyHG

    July 29, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    We did this– we had a baby and a three year old, moved a month after the baby was born, stayed two weeks at my in-laws, two weeks in temporary housing, six months as house-sitters, and then finally into our own place (which is when we got our stuff back).

    It wasn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever done, but it was FINE. It was an adventure, it was an exciting time, and we were staying together as a family.
    You can acknowledge hard feelings, but I’d wait until the kids bring it up. Don’t go into it saying “this is so sad and hard and scary” because it might not be! Good luck!

  • IrishCream

    July 29, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    We moved two states away when my kids were three (just) and one. It was ridiculously easy on the kids., honestly; I was really bracing for much more transition stress. We talked a LOT about how all of our stuff (and our pets) would be coming with us, and talked about how the packing process would work. Beyond that…easy. It’s a great age to move, I think, because their friendships in toddlerhood are just not that close. My older daughter was unfazed at the thought of saying goodbye to her buddies and had no anxiety about making new friends. I’m sure if we had been moving away from close family members there would have been more of a sense of loss, but you’re moving to them, so that’s great!

  • Trish

    July 29, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Do it. We did it over a year ago, and zero regrets. Kids (3 and a half and nine months at the time) adjusted wonderfully. The time with our parents/their grandparents is something we would never have otherwise had.

  • Jennifer

    July 29, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    We live overseas and are renters. We’ve moved several times, within the same country and between countries. This book is helpful for little ones: My kids also like this app:

  • Tiffany

    July 29, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    We did a similar move- 2 & 4 year old kids, short notice, long distance, living in a hotel for 3 months until we found a house; And you know, I was all prepared for it to be awful and for the kids to freak out, regress, be oh so sad and homesick. And… To tell the truth, it was pretty anti-climactic. Like Amy suggested, we did a tonne of fun stuff in the new city, that probably helped, but beyond that, once it was established that everything important to them (like their lego, favourite books…the toaster, for some reason…) would also be at the new house, they weren’t too concerned one way or the other 

  • K

    July 29, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    We moved about 4 months ago, and stayed at my parents’ house for about a month while our new house closed. Our kiddo was 3, and it was no big deal. Starting his new preschool was tough for about two weeks, but he adjusted so fast. There is something so awesome about seeing your confident little guy stroll into his school with a smile in just a few short weeks! On the practical side, We had to explain that “all the stuff is coming too, but just some of it will be out at G and G’s house” – we let him pick his favorite things to keep out of storage and then made sure there were a few new things at G and G’s to make it feel special. We also talked a lot about the new house, but only when we were confident that it was actually going to be ours. Then we did what others have said, tried to make it an adventure and involve him as much as possible. He helped “rebuild” his bed and helped unpack his things (I set aside specific boxes he could handle himself – just stuffies and stuff”. It will be fine, being close to family is amazing and before you know it the new place will be home!

  • Kelcey Kintner

    Kelcey Kintner

    July 29, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    I actually think you all are moving at a great time because the kids are so young. It does get much harder as kids get older. We moved two years ago and my now 10 year old had a very rough adjustment. But I will say this – learning to overcome something difficult is a wonderful tool for life. A child who has learned to adjust to a completely new experience has those skill under his or belt and can use them for a lifetime. 

  • Jelourai

    July 29, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    We moved from PA to NJ when I was eight and I thought it was very exciting – especially since my parents took us to check out the house and the neighborhood playground first, and we got to have breakfast from those tiny one-time-use cereal boxes, and sleep in sleeping bags the first night… it was much easier on us than our parents!

  • Becky

    July 30, 2015 at 7:20 am

    I second the Usborne book recommendation. It was great for us and goes into enough exciting detail while portraying the ‘stressful side’ (mum packing, boxes being taken) with relatable (slightly 90s) pictures.

  • SarahB

    July 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

    We moved with our almost two year old two years ago. I was shocked how smoothly it went. Once we were under contract, we made a fuss about moving to a “new house” and we would all go and take all our things and have a yard and yay happy fun time new house!

    We took him to see it a week before we moved, showed him the room that would be his, and he seemed fine. The first night in the house when we told him it was time to go to his room, he went right there and to sleep in his crib like normal.

    So, your one year old? Just keep it simple.

    The 3.5 year old is probably going to drop a nap, change bedtime, routinely lose his ever loving mind for reasons you cannot immediately discern…that will happen whether you move or not, so, hey, don’t blame yourself when it happens!

    We bought the Berenstein Bears book about moving. DS didn’t care for it much at almost 2 but asks us to read it now at almost 4 and we talk about when we moved. It would likely be good for your 3.5 year old.

  • leslie

    July 30, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    We are about to embark on a similar adventure. Moving from the Midwest to Florida with our two daughters, 2 & 4.5. Honestly, I’m more worried about me than them! We are actually moving away from family/support, which scares the crap out of me. But it’s for a great career opportunity and nothing is forever. We will be going into temp housing for 2-3 months while we look for a house, and I’ve been playing it up as super exciting. “It’s like living in a hotel! There will be a pool!” And I’ve played up their new preschool, as well.” It has it’s very own playground!” (current school does not) Just yesterday, I asked my older daughter what she’s most excited about, and she said “meeting my new friends!”. That’s when I knew for sure that this will all be fine. Kids are most definitely resiliant. Try not to sweat it too much. And good luck!

  • KR

    July 30, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I agree that this is actually a great time to move, before kids are too tied up in school and specific friends.  Our strategies (around the same ages of kids!) included some books – “Bella and Stella come home” was a good one, and “Boomer’s Big Day” – and a lot of talking about all of the things that would move to our new house with us, which really comforted the 3 year old (she also thought it was HILARIOUS that we were going to take her WHOLE BED apart and put it in a box and take it with us – hey, whatever works.)  We spent a week at Gramma’s, which was pretty indistinguishable from a normal trip for them, and then we rented for 6 months before buying a house.  In the end, the kids were basically unfazed by it.  You got this!

  • Jen

    July 30, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    We moved when our kids were 3.5 and 1. The one year old was fine as long as she was with me. I worried more about our preschooler, who was very attached to her school and was finally at the age where she had “real” friends.

    Rather than spend the time and money to make a custom book, I recommend getting the book The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day. $5 and done! It covers all the things that you need to cover, and it aimed at the right age. Our kids were fine when we moved, and we also moved again (but locally) to a new house within the same year.

  • Crystal

    July 31, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Do you have specific suggestions for a toddler (almost 3 years old) who is having trouble settling at night after moving to a new house? She used to sleep 7pm-7am plus a 1-2 hour nap each afternoon. After our move, she’s resisted bedtime more and more, saying she can’t sleep. She’s falling asleep between 8-10pm and waking at 6am. She requires repeated visits from Mom/Dad after we’ve said goodnight, even though before she would go to sleep after our bedtime routine without any trouble. Thankfully, she sleeps through once she’s asleep, but it’s become quite the circus trying to get her to sleep. It’s doubly frustrating because she and her baby sister share a room and they were doing great together before the move. Now her tossing and turning and talking and yelling and playing is waking the baby, so we’re all getting more and more tired! I’ve been doing a long wind-down period and following her familiar bedtime routine, but she just seems jittery and wired. I’ve tried chamomile, lavender oil, etc, to no avail. She only gets an hour or so of screen time once a week during the day on the weekend, so it’s not screen exposure. She has blackout curtains and a white noise machine. We have spent time in her room before bed looking at everything and talking about what’s making shadows, etc. I didn’t redecorate, so the bed/decor is familiar. I’m trying to be extra affectionate and reassuring but also firm about bedtime because I know how important it is. I’m just completely at a loss now. It’s been over 2 weeks and things seem to be getting worse, not better. I know eventually she’ll sleep well again, but I’d really like to do what I can to shorten this adjustment and work towards healthy sleep habits again! Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      July 31, 2015 at 8:55 am

      I’m sorry but Amalah doesn’t answer/respond to individual questions submitted in comments sections. Please submit them to her designated email: amyadvice[at]gmail[dot]com. The good news is that we have a really great community of very smart parents who read this column and you may get a response from them here. 🙂