Preparing Young Children For a Move
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!Published June 27, 2014. Last updated November 25, 2018.