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Moving With a Toddler

Moving With a Toddler

By Amalah

Hey Amalah,

I am a loyal reader and huge fan. My husband and I live in DC with our 22 month old son, and we are preparing for a sort of sudden move to a bigger house in our current neighborhood. Due to the craziness of the DC real estate market and a few other factors, this is all going to happen really fast. We’ll close on our new house in exactly a month and need to sell our house in the meantime. Serendipitously, we’re going to be at the beach for the first two weeks of August so we are rushing to get as much done as possible before we leave so the intrusive parts of selling the house (painting, staging, showing, etc) can take place as much as possible while we’re gone.

I’m writing to you about this because I just want to make sure we’re doing everything possible to help our son with these big changes. This is the first time since we became parents that we will have this kind of upheaval, and I’m trying to draw on every piece of advice I’ve read over the last two years about toddlers and transitions and routines, etc. We’ll keep him at his daycare (which he loves), we’ll make sure his room is set up first and try to make it look as close as possible to his old room, we’ll both be with him every night and morning, etc.

The timeline will be this: this week and next week lots of stuff gets moved out of our house and some painting happens. Then, we leave to spend two weeks at the beach all together (including the dog and my mom who is a big part of his life), then when we get back we may be back in our old house for a week, or we may all move into my moms for a week, and then finally we’ll move into our new house. It’s a lot of transitions for such a small kid, and we have tried to limit them as much as possible, but I know it will be tough. I mean, it will be tough on us and we are adults!

What else can we do? What should we expect from him in terms of feelings, behavior, etc? He is generally pretty adaptable – sleeps well in strange places/on vacations, but I’m sure the stress of transitions will come out in other ways. Clinginess, I assume? What else? Should we try to do any goodbye rituals at all with the old house, the yard, etc? He is at an age where he says goodbye to everything all the time. Bye car, when we get out of the car. Bye to every person at daycare every day, etc. So I feel tempted to try to do some version of that with the house, but I also feel like it’s all so far over his head, so I don’t know.

He doesn’t have any lovies – has never wanted any of what we’ve offered him. He just sucks on his two fingers or comfort, and sleeps with his two favorite books. So all of that is portable. But I’m sure there will be things he will miss that I won’t see coming. I just want to do what I can to make room for his feelings and try to help him feel as secure as possible.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

We’ve done two moves since having children: Our firstborn was about 15 months old for our first move; then move number two came when our youngest had just turned four. (Older two were six and nine.) And both moves were dominated by one pretty big observation: Kids are way more adaptable than we often give them credit for.

So while you certainly shouldn’t assume a move won’t come with ANY sort of transitional issues or confusion, it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good set of circumstances that should keep the disruption to a minimum: A very young, generally adaptable toddler who has traveled and has a proven ability to sleep in new/different places, who isn’t changing daycares, and who will be staying in the same city and neighborhood (and thus staying around familiar sights/places). That’s honestly pretty ideal, I’d say.

Make a comfort picture book

I would recommend checking out Twigtale and if possible, making a version of their “I Am Moving” book. (Disclosure: I have also written a book for Twigtale, but do not receive royalties/compensation from recommending any other title.) I made one for my youngest and found it MASSIVELY helpful: I included photos of our old house and our new one and could highlight both things that were coming with us (his favorite toys, our pets, etc.), as well as the things we were going to have to say goodbye to (our backyard, his preschool, etc.). So it would be similar to the “saying goodbye” ceremony you’re thinking of, but also provide a bit of a visual preparation/reassurance ahead of time. My son continued to read and re-read the book after we moved as well — I think seeing photos of his old house/room was comforting, as were the “before” photos of the new house (I used the listing photos). Now he could walk through those rooms and see our furniture and things in them and the changeover seemed to really help him grok to okay, this was someone else’s house but now it’s ours and we live here now okay I get it. 

What to maybe expect

As for what to look out for? At 22 months, the most likely issues you’ll see are sleep disturbances (again, you might not since your son is a seasoned “I sleep in other places” type of toddler) and some clinginess/separation anxiety and possibly an increased frequency of temper tantrums. A toddler who is feeling insecure about a lot of big changes will often act out in negative attention/boundary testing ways. You’ll want to counter with tons of positive attention and react calming and consistently to the negative attention seeking. (You can understand the emotional undercurrent, but that doesn’t mean you can or should tolerate or excuse resulting bad behavior.) Basically, keep your reactions and discipline expectations every bit as consistent at the new house as they were at the old house. That will give him the emotional consistency he needs, which is every bit as important as the consistency in routine and familiar items/toys/books.

I think you’re going to be just fine, though. Congratulations on your wonderful new house!

Photo source: Depositphotos/bst2012


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Published August 3, 2017. Last updated August 3, 2017.
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 [email protected].

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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