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Preparing Your Young Child For a Move

Preparing Young Children For a Move

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m a stay at home mom with an almost 4 year old, a one year with another on the way. My husband’s job is relocating out of state so we will be moving two-three months after baby #3 arrives. This was a big surprise and even though we love our home and have an amazing support network, we are moving because my husband also loves his job and he is the one making it possible for me to be home with the kids. Aside from the panic I feel when I think about selling our home, moving, being in temporary housing and buying a new house with a newborn and two others underfoot, I am beginning to wonder when we should tell our oldest. She will be turning four in August and we will likely be moving before Christmas. Since she is home with me most of the time she doesn’t have a lot of strong connections at her preschool but she does have close friends through our church. When is the right time to break this to her? Early, so she can adjust to the idea and possibly fret about it for months or spring it on her when we start packing up the house?

Any advice on this would great, thanks!

Oh ho ho, I should probably title this post: Preparing Your Child For a Move, What NOT To Do, Which Was: Everything Amy Did.

We were planning an in-town move last year — nothing drastic, just hoping to move up from our townhouse to a single family, maybe gain a bedroom and yard size — and I guess I let my brain get entirely, utterly consumed on the house to-do list and real estate listings and my own stress/excitement, because it never occurred to me that there was a right and wrong way to spring the news on the kids.

We did a bunch of things that, in hindsight, created a lot of stress and anxiety for them. We floated the idea out in the abstract too early, so they thought they could like, change our minds or stage some kind of WE’RE NOT MOVING coup. We made a ton of changes to our current house all at once and openly got rid of a lot of stuff, including old toys and kids clothing, which basically made them terrified that we’d go to a new house and not take any of their things. We tried to “sell” the idea of moving to them, which opened up room for arguments (“I don’t WANT MY OWN ROOM. I want the ROOM I HAVE NOW.”). Eventually, the whole topic became this Terrible Thing Mom and Dad Want To Do To Us.

When we eventually decided against moving, it was like we were conceding defeat to the kids. Fine. We’re staying. You win.

(My oldest immediately asked, “Does this mean we can get the little red chairs back?”, referring to two toddler-sized plastic chairs that nobody ever sat in, not even once, that I’d put out on the curb for someone to take. For the rest of his life, he is going to give me grief about those little red chairs, you guys. For the REST OF HIS LIFE.)

What I should have done, in retrospect, was spend a measly 10 minutes on the Internet reading columns like the one I’m writing, (and this one, and this one), and followed THAT advice. I would have kept my mouth shut about moving until we were really, really, REALLY sure, and then the conversation should have been a real, sit-down, matter-of-fact conversation about it, rather than letting them overhear grown-up discussions. This is happening, here are a few reasons why, please ask us your questions and we’ll do our best to answer and reassure you. I should have hit the bookstore and bought a bunch of children’s books about moving, I should have sat with my preschooler and acted out a move with his dollhouses. I should have talked about creating a memento box/book about our current house and — even more importantly — respected their love and attachment to the house more, rather than basically talking about all the reasons I was over it and wanted to leave it.

So the one linked article recommends telling children your daughter’s age about a month before.  Doing it too early will just allow fears and anxiety to build. (Plus she’s going to have a new sibling to adjust to first, and you want to keep these two changes separate from each other so she’s not blaming the move on the baby.) But that still depends on your packing schedule and when you expect the For Sale sign to show up in the yard, so take “month” as a loose recommendation. Don’t tell her now, but also don’t wait too long, especially if the topic is going dominate your conversations. Definitely act out the moving process with toys, read her books, show her pictures of where you’ll be going. And above all, LISTEN to her and don’t overwhelm her with too much information that she won’t really understand (i.e. “we can write letters to all your friends!” when she 1) doesn’t write, and 2) probably has no idea what mailing letters even is, except maybe how you write to Santa but still never see him or hear back from him I’M SO CONFUSED MOM.).

And recognize that this move and all this change WILL be stressful. For you and for her. I mean, my lands, woman. I would buy you so much wine if you weren’t pregnant right now, because that sounds NUTS. But there’s only so much you can do to about that aspect of it, so make sure she knows that it’s okay for her to feel sad or angry or scared. (Watch the “oh, don’t be silly, of course all your toys will come with us” talk that brushes her feelings away as silly or annoying, when really she’s trying to sort out the disconnect between toys coming WITH her vs. this whole “putting toys in boxes on a big scary truck” thing.) Do more reading post-move. Expect some regressions, either sleep or potty or tantrums. Lots of hugs, cuddles and listening. Remind yourself that in the end, though, kids are resilient little creatures.

And FINALLY, the most useful part of this whole column: Commenters who have Been There and Done That! Engage! Activate! Tell us what helped, what didn’t, and what you would do the same or differently!

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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EmilyHG
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EmilyHG

So… my family moved to a new state with a three-year old and a one-month old a little over a year ago. We told the older child that I’d gotten a new job about three months before the move because we were selling our house and he would’ve picked up on it anyway. Looking back, I think we did two things well. 1. We visited the new city, new preschool, and new playgrounds so that my son knew where we were going. We took a bunch of pictures so we could talk about it as a real place. 2. We… Read more »

MR
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MR

Unpacking his toys first was brilliant! Not only because he was relieved to see them again, but because then he had something to play with while you try to unpack the dishes and such. OP, if you have a play tent or something, like that, make it one of the things you can unpack first too. You can put that in an empty room (or one that just has boxes), and they can play and run around and whatever while you unpack. My friend’s family moved in to their house in the middle of winter while their kids were almost… Read more »

Amy
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Amy

Although I have never moved with my children, I moved many times as a child since my family is military. One thing my parents ALWAYS did was make sure my sister and l’s beds were set up, complete with sheets and blankets, that first night. No matter how late or if their own bed had made it off of transport, no one went to bed until the kids beds were set up. Looking back, it was a comfort to know my bed was still the same even if nothing else was familiar. Good luck!

Kaycee in Texas
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Kaycee in Texas

We moved a couple of times when my kids were young. We told them a couple of weeks in advance, got some kid books on the subject, and it all went pretty smooth. I do have one story that is a warning on what not to do though. When I was 4 years old we moved to the town where my grandparents lived. We then stayed with them for a couple of months while my parents house hunted. The family lore says that when we were finally moving into the new house, I confided in my grandmother that I wasn’t… Read more »

Natalie
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Natalie

We moved like 10 times (several different states) when I was a kid. I cannot remember my parents ever really talking to us about it. I just remember it happening. But then again I was always the laid back one while my younger sister was always the nervous hand twister/ gut wrencher. She still freaks out about change and I still rearrange my furniture every couple months or else I feel stagnant. Maybe it has more to do with personality of the kid than anything else.

J
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J

We moved a year ago with our then almost-4-yr-old and 1-yr-old. This is what worked for us: 1.) Reading the Berenstain bears’ Moving Day book– it really helped our daughter understand what was going to happen on moving day and opened the door for conversations about why we were moving, if she’d see her friends again, etc. 2.) Like others recommended, I also set up our kids beds first (so they could sleep in them the first night) and had toys at the ready so they could play with something familiar right away, while the truck was being unloaded. My… Read more »

Carolyn
Guest

My best friend married a man in the Air Force, and they have moved almost once a year for the last 4 years or so. So my experience isn’t personal, but the story that stuck with me was when they were preparing to move shortly after their second child was born, and their older child tearfully asked if the baby was going to get to come with them to the new house or if he had to stay at the old one 🙁 It must be so confusing to not understand things like that! So I think acting out moving… Read more »

Susan:)
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Susan:)

We moved about a year and a half ago, and the kids were 4 and a half and almost three at that time. We started packing a couple of months beforehand and I guess that’s when we told them. I read them the Berenstain Bears Moving Day and a couple other books about moving. We made sure they knew that all their toys and things were coming too. We were only moving a few miles away to a new neighborhood, so they got to visit the new house beforehand, got to pick out the paint color for their new room… Read more »

Christina
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Christina

I love the idea of acting it out with toys! We moved to a different state with our 3 year old and 1 year old almost a year ago. We had told our oldest that it was a possibility, which was maybe a no-no, but it seemed to help him be a little less confused when it became official, about two months before the actual move. Then he had to know because there was all this house stuff and preparation going on that he needed a reason for. We visited all of our favorite places and friends and took pictures,… Read more »

Blythe
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Blythe

Did full change management when we moved last year with my then almost 3 y.o.  During the transition I made sure my son came with me to look at new houses, and asked him if he liked things he was already showing interest in (ohh do you like that staircase you are running up and down, isn’t that cool, would you like one like that in our NEW house???).  One of the things he had done was assign ownership to our previous house (mommy’s house) so we talked up the new house as kiddo’s house.   We let him play… Read more »

KR
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KR

We just moved this spring with a 2 1/2 year old and a 9 month old.  We had several months between knowing we were moving and actually doing it, so we talked about it a lot (with a big emphasis on how mommy is going and daddy is going and josie is going and annie is going and the doggies are going and all your toys are going WE’RE ALL GOING TOGETHER…) and got a couple of books (“Bella and Stella Come Home”) was a big hit) about moving, which helped us all talk about it more easily (I confess,… Read more »

Tami
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Tami

I think I moved around 15 times from the time I was school aged until adulthood. Lots of those were in early childhood and I distinctly remember that my mom (single mother) always, always had our rooms set up and ready for the first night in the new house. Usually by the time we woke up on the first whole day in the new house she had the kitchen in a semblance of order as well. I don’t know how she did it but in 24 hours she could make a house into our home. We didn’t ever really talk… Read more »

SarahB
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SarahB

We moved with our almost two-year-old last summer. He came with us to open houses, without I think much knowing what it was about, and once we were under contract we started talking up our “new house” with a lot of excitement. We were moving from an apartment to a house, so we talked about space and a yard. We visited the house with him about a week before we moved in and told him it was our new house and showed him his room. I’ll never forget how he stepped out into the backyard and did a slow circle… Read more »

Moxy
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Moxy

We moved to a new state about a year ago with our almost 3 year old. Our was also an employer-related relocation so we had about 2 months notice ourselves and chose to tell her right away. Which help explain why we suddenly rearranged all the furniture and cleaned up all the toys to get the house on the market. I was able to take some time off between jobs to spend time with her saying good-bye ot our friends and neighborhood and then getting her acclimated to the new house and school. We read the Bearstein Bears Moving Day… Read more »

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How to Make Your Next Family Move Easier For The Kids | Jay Moves

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