We're thinking of moving, or just moved. How does that affect kids?

Children, in general, are affected by change, in both positive and negative ways. Most children are flexible and accommodating - more resilient than their parents think - but they can definitely struggle with major life changes, and one of those changes is a move. Generally speaking, if three months have passed and your child continues to struggle, or six months have passed and there are still concerning signs, it's smart to look for a professional. Most likely, the move was more negative than initially suspected.

What can we do to make the move successful?

Moving affects children's behavior and emotions. A move represents change, which creates issues for every age. Younger children need more routine, so throughout the move period, aim to keep mealtimes and bedtimes normal. Even as familiar surroundings morph into a mountain of boxes, if breakfast can still start with cereal in a favorite bowl and bedtime is still a ritual of tooth-brushing and story-reading, your kids will cope better than you might expect.

Younger kids in the family are likely to be the most eager members of the move team. You'll see more positive emotions and behavior associated with moving. They also will welcome the chance to assist with the planning, list-making and packing. Let them help by assigning tasks you know they can handle. Moving will trigger anxiety, too, so keep these points in mind:

What about with younger children?

Preschoolers are egocentric. When you show stress at the inevitable snafus with a move, they may think it is something they did. Be mindful of your reactions around them and give them extra reassurance.

Even in their excitement, school-age children will feel sadness at leaving familiar friends, schools and activities. Help them with concrete ways to make the here-to-there transition. For example, scout out activities in the new community they can get involved in. Use a self-made address book to gather friends', favorite teachers', and neighbors' e-mail addresses and/or phone numbers for staying in touch after the move.

The unknown increases anxiety. Sharing children's picture books about moving is a great way to prepare kids for what's ahead and voice the range of feelings they may have. There are some great book ideas at the bottom of this web page, if you can preorder them.

How about during the actual move?

Saying good-bye to favorite places, people-even to the home itself-is important for this age. Preschoolers may need help in understanding that their same friends and neighbors will not be in the new place. Here are some "rituals" that might be useful to "say goodbye" with your children:

Goodbye Rituals:

  • A few weeks before you move, hold an informal get-together for close friends and neighbors to say good-bye.
  • As a family, make a point of visiting favorite restaurants and other special places one more time before you leave.
  • When the house or apartment is empty, take a room-by-room "memory walk" with your children. Recall birthday parties in the dining room, holiday events in the living room, stories of bringing the children home as babies - the kinds of memories every family has. Take a last stroll around the outside too.
  • Compare how the house feels empty to how it felt with your belongings there. Chances are your children will get an inkling that what really makes a home is the family and your personal things - furniture, pictures, dishes, books, toys.

Plan a welcoming ritual for your new home.

It can be anything that will have meaning for your children and you. For example:

  • If the kids are seeing the house for the first time, do a walk-through together to "meet" your new home before your belongings fill the rooms.
  • As a family, plant a tree or bush outside as a symbol that this is your home now. If it's wintertime, start something inside that you can transplant in the spring.
  • Gather together to hang a family photograph or find a place for an object that is special to your family. If you've always had a swing or a bird feeder in the backyard, make an event of putting the new one up in this home.

Have everyone's "survival necessities" where you can find them immediately in the new home.

That may be "blankie" for baby, favorite PJ's for your preschooler, essential CD's or a sweatshirt for your teen, and the coffee pot for you! Pack a "must haves" suitcase or box for each family member - anything that would cause crying or raise blood pressure if it were missing in action for long. Your first days in your new home-especially that first night and morning-will be so much more pleasant when everyone has the familiar things that make them comfortable.

Re-establish family routines, like mealtimes and bedtimes, right away.

With a move, there's a certain amount of disruption to normal schedules that you can't get around, especially if a significant amount of travel is involved. But once you've moved in, aim to get back on your normal family schedule as quickly as possible. This will help younger children, in particular, who need more consistency. It also sends the important message to all members that you are the same family, just in a new setting. The old rules, routines and rituals still apply.

Prioritize the unpacking process.

You didn't pack in a day, so don't try to unpack in one either. Make your first priority setting up the kids' rooms to help get them comfortable. Put the kitchen, bathroom(s), family room and other high-use rooms at the top of the list. Don't obsess over hanging pictures or other decorations right away. Take time to enjoy getting to know your new home and the wonderful discoveries you and your kids will make about it.

Allow the kids some say in setting up their bedrooms.

This is truly their space in the new home, so let them claim it. Of course, age will depend on how much control they have. At the least, let them decide where their bed goes in the room. If there's a budget for new furnishings, let them help select the new rug or bedspread.

Help your children feel comfortable in their new rooms.

Some children have problems sleeping in a new bedroom. It is unfamiliar to them and can become a symbol of any anxieties they feel about the move. Take time to talk about how this room is similar to the child's old room and how it's different. Pay special attention to furnishings and belongings that were in the old room to encourage a sense of familiarity. Recall things about the old room that your child didn't like, such as rattling windows or weird shadows. Help your child discover the good things about this new room.

Get familiar with the new neighborhood.

This is important for comfort and safety. You want your kids to know as quickly as possible the boundaries of where they can go and where they can't venture beyond. Taking walks together is the best way to uncover the exciting surprises that await in the new neighborhood. To make a game of it, try setting up a special scavenger hunt, or look for familiar surroundings from your last neighborhood and make a game of that.

Help your pets settle in.

Your kids will feel more comfortable when they see that their four-legged friends are doing okay. Cats do best when you confine them to one room in the new home. Give them opportunities to explore further but don't push. As they feel comfortable, they'll expand their territory. Keep dogs on a leash until they get to know the neighborhood. In general, don't let cats or dogs roam immediately. The last way you want to meet the neighbors is through a door-to-door search for Fido or Fluffy!

Remember, "make new friends but keep the old."

Be active in helping your children make friends in your new community. At the same time, support their need to hold onto their old friends. They will appreciate having these familiar confidantes for sharing their new experiences and discoveries.

Meeting new friends:

  • With colleagues from work or new families you meet, set up play dates for younger children to get to know each other.
  • Find activities for your school-age children to join, such as sports teams, clubs, lessons and classes. Meeting kids with the same interests increases the odds of going beyond acquaintance to friend.
  • Take the initiative and introduce yourself to the neighbors. Your kids' first new friends may literally be living next door. A meet-and-greet can help get those friendships underway.

Staying in touch with the old:

  • Pre-paid phone cards can keep calls to old friends from breaking the budget.
  • Make plans for an upcoming visit-whether in the new neighborhood or the old.

OK - how about after the move? What should a parent watch for?

Be prepared to re-teach household rules to toddlers in the new home, like not touching what is hot. More than ever, monitor your children's moods. Kids can have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar room after a move. They can be teary or cranky. When children have seemed excited about a move, the change in attitude can be alarming. But it's not unusual. Give them time and be sensitive to their feelings. It won't be long and they'll make exciting surprises and new friends that will have them smiling again!

Prolonged upset after a move, however, shouldn't be ignored. Unusual problems with schoolwork or peers, or changes in sleeping or eating patterns that don't get better, are signs that your child may need extra support in adjusting to the move. See help through your school or local resources - ask Ward Halverson for help, as he has contacts in all kinds of places or, at the least, can make specific suggestions.

Any book suggestions for kids before a move?

There are some great resources out there, and remember that children learn in new and different ways from adults. Sometimes rather than talking about it, they need to act out their feelings, draw, or read books and look at pictures. Here are a few ideas:

For Teens:

Footsteps Around the World: Relocation Tips for Teens (Second Edition) by Beverly Roman, illustrated by Michael Cadieux ($13.95 paperback, spiral bound). Checklists and other to-do features help teens address feelings about a move, getting organized, choosing a new school and making friends.

For Littler Children:

  • "Why Do We Have to Move?" Helping Your Child Adjust-with Love and Illustrations by Cynthia MacGregor, illustrations by David Clark ($14.95 hardcover). Despite the subtitle, this is written to children, with humorous illustrations and an honest assessment of what can be tough about a move but what's great about one too.
  • The Bernstein Bears' Moving Day by Stan & Jan Bernstein ($3.25 paperback). The familiar bear family moves from a cave in the mountains to a tree house in the valley, and young readers go with them every step-from Papa making the big announcement to Brother snuggled into his new bedroom.
  • Goodbye House by Frank Asch ($5.99 paperback). A good choice for very young fans of Asch's other Bear books. On Moving Day, Baby Bear and his family remember times together as they walk through their now empty house. This story illustrates the benefits of planning a goodbye ritual at your old home.
  • Annabelle's Big Move, written and illustrated by Carla Golembe ($14 hardcover). Annabelle is the family dog and this two-stories-in-one is told from her point of view. She wonders what's happening as the family packs up its belongings, sends her off at the airport and meets her in a strange new place. In the second story, Annabelle likes her new home, but she is lonely. The child in the family, Miranda, helps her meet new puppy pals. This is a good choice for helping children understand the strangeness of a move for the family pet and for talking about their own feelings too.
  • What About My Goldfish? by Pamela Greenwood, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas ($14.95 hardcover). Jamie doesn't want to move because he's worried about how his dog and goldfish will do. In the new house, he's still worried that they are unhappy. He devises a plan that involves making new friends, for his pets and himself.
  • Who Will Be My Friends? by Syd Hoff ($3.99 paperback). The author of Danny and the Dinosaur introduces Freddy, who has moved into a new house and now wonders how to find new friends. Rest assured, he does!
  • Why Did We Have to Move Here? by Sally J.K. Davies ($15.95 hardcover). Peter is miserable in his new house and at his new school, where the year has already started and he's the new kid. But it's not long before he discovers that there are great surprises and new friends to be found in a new place too.
  • Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban ($4.99 paperback). Two respected children's authors have collaborated on this gentle story about a young child's questions as Dad takes him for his first day in kindergarten in a new school.