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Preparing Your Child for a Move

Sooner or later, many families face the prospect of moving. Disruptive as moving can be for parents, the experience can be even more traumatic for kids, who may not be a part of the decision to move and might not understand it.

Kids can need some time and special attention during the transition. Try these tips to make the process less stressful for everyone.

Making the Decision to Move

Many kids thrive on familiarity and routine. So as you consider a move, weigh the benefits of that change against the comfort that established surroundings, school, and social life give your kids.

If your family has recently dealt with a major life change, such as divorce or death, you may want to postpone a move, if possible, to give kids time to adjust.

The decision to move may be out of your hands, perhaps due to a job transfer or financial issues. Even if you're not happy about the move, try to maintain a positive attitude about it. During times of transition, a parent's moods and attitudes can greatly affect kids, who may be looking for reassurance.

Discussing the Move With Kids

No matter what the circumstances, the most important way to prepare kids to move is to talk about it.

Try to give them as much information about the move as soon as possible. Answer questions completely and truthfully, and be receptive to both positive and negative reactions. Even if the move means an improvement in family life, kids don't always understand that and may be focused on the frightening aspects of the change.

Involving kids in the planning as much as possible makes them feel like participants in the house-hunting process or the search for a new school. This can make the change feel less like it's being forced on them.

If you're moving across town, try to take your kids to visit the new house (or see it being built) and explore the new neighborhood.

For distant moves, provide as much information as you can about the new home, city, and state (or country). Access the Internet to learn about the community. Learn where kids can participate in favorite activities. See if a relative, friend, or even a real estate agent can take pictures of the new house and new school for your child.

Moving With Toddlers and Preschoolers

Kids younger than 6 may be the easiest to move, as they have a limited capacity to understand the changes involved. Still, your guidance is crucial.

Here are ways to ease the transition for young kids:

  • Keep explanations clear and simple.
  • Use a story to explain the move, or use toy trucks and furniture to act it out.
  • When you pack your toddler's toys in boxes, make sure to explain that you aren't throwing them away.
  • If your new home is nearby and vacant, go there to visit before the move and take a few toys over each time.
  • Hold off on getting rid of your child's old bedroom furniture, which may provide a sense of comfort in the new house. It might even be a good idea to arrange furniture in a similar way in the new bedroom.
  • Avoid making other big changes during the move, like toilet training or advancing a toddler to a bed from a crib.
  • Arrange for your toddler or preschooler to stay with a babysitter on moving day.

Moving With School-Age Kids

Kids in elementary school may be relatively open to a move, but still need serious consideration and help throughout the transition.

There are two schools of thought about "the right time to move." Some experts say that summer is the best time because it avoids disrupting the school year. Others say that midyear is better because a child can meet other kids right away.

To avoid glitches that would add stress, gather any information the new school will need to process the transfer. That may include the most recent report card or transcript, birth certificate, and medical records.

Moving With Teens

It's common for teens to actively rebel against a move. Your teen has probably invested considerable energy in a particular social group and might be involved in a romantic relationship. A move may mean that your teen will miss a long-awaited event, like a prom.

It's particularly important to let teens know that you want to hear their concerns and that you respect them. While blanket assurances may sound dismissive, it's legitimate to suggest that the move can serve as rehearsal for future changes, like college or a new job. However, also be sure to let them know that you hear their concerns.

After the move, consider planning a visit back to the old neighborhood, if it's feasible. Also, see if if the teen can return for events like prom or homecoming.

If you're moving midway through a school year, you might want to consider letting an older teen stay in the old location with a friend or relative, if that's an option.

After Moving Day

After the move, try to get your child's room in order before turning your attention to the rest of the house. Also, try to maintain your regular schedule for meals and bedtime to give kids a sense of familiarity.

When your child does start school, you may want to go along to meet as many teachers as possible or to introduce your child to the principal.

Set realistic expectations about the transition. Generally, teachers expect new kids to feel somewhat comfortable in their classes in about 6 weeks. Some kids need less time; others might need more.

After the move, if you're still concerned about your child's transition, a family therapist might provide some helpful guidance.

A move can present many challenges, but good things also come from this kind of change. Your family might grow closer and you may learn more about each other by going through it together.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Shroff Pendley, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2011