How to prepare kids under 10 for a move – tips and tricks from a child psychologist

MovingCompanyReviews note:   We’re delighted to have Kerry Brown Hasbrook, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, write this post for us.   Dr. Brown Hasbrook is a well known Child Psychologist in the Chicago area, and recently moved with her three children.    Her post below gives some fantastic tips and tricks on how to make the moving day (and the weeks leading up to it!) less stressful with kids.

It is not surprising that moving is listed as one of life’s most stressful events! After all, you are not just relocating your physical belongings, but you are leaving behind your community, your friends, your schools, and all the well-worn paths you created over the years! Moving becomes more complicated when children are part of the equation. Now, you don’t just have yourself and your worries with which to contend (e.g., How do I find the local grocery store, Will I make friends, etc.), but also a whole host of concerns from your children and their different perspectives. As you embark on this exciting journey, it is important to keep routines as consistent as possible.

When my family relocated from Chicago to a nearby suburb, our children were 3, 5, and 7 years old. Knowing that much of parenting lies in the marketing, I knew that how I presented the upcoming relocation to the kids was important. I also knew that I was serving as the main model based on my attitude and behavior about the move. On a basic level, they knew a relocation was impending given the “For Sale” sign in front of our condo and the numerous, quick clean up toys and flush the toilet sessions before showings. Since we know that change is challenging for everyone, especially if you perceive that you have little or no control over things, my husband and I tried to involve the children in an age-appropriate manner from the outset.

Let’s face it, looking at prospective houses and schools is tremendously easier without children present. Once we narrowed down the town, however, we felt it important to bring them along so they could share their input and visualize their “new life” in the suburbs. Seeing their new school, new neighborhood, and new house greatly managed expectations and appeared to help the move feel less scary! We requested a meeting with the principal so our kids could see a smiling and friendly face belonged to the leader of their new school. As always, they noticed things that my husband and I might not have noticed. After these trips to visit houses and schools, instead of rushing back home, we always made time to stop at local parks to play. Again, a new fond memory at a park made it easier for the kids to imagine playing at that park with their new friends sometime in the future!

We also took time to talk to our children about their feelings regarding leaving the only home and city they knew. We tried to validate their feelings of sadness, fear, and excitement by saying things like, “Thank you for telling me about your worries about making new friends. That is a really normal feeling to have when you move to a new town. Mommy feels the same way too, but I know we are a friendly and kind family. I am sure we will make friends really quickly. Just watch!” This ongoing, open conversation was really helpful as my youngest child expressed sadness regarding “really missing” her toys in the future. We reassured her that all her toys were moving with us to the suburbs. Had we not created an open conversation, we would not have known that she thought her toys were being separated from her! That brings me to my next point, make sure when packing items, that your children’s most beloved possessions (for younger kids it’s usually a lovey or blanket) are not packed in a box, but carried with them or you, if possible! Those items can serve as a great source of comfort (we, psychologists, call them transitional objects) during a stressful time! Make sure to mark the boxes with children’s bedding and toys accurately so they can be the first boxes unpacked in the new house! Involve your children in setting up their new bedrooms. Why not give them control wherever you can by allowing them to select paint colors, to choose furniture placement, and other unimportant details!

Finally, allow your children to connect with their old friends when appropriate. In today’s digital age, it is easier than ever to FaceTime, text, or call friends. The timing of visits and playdates is important though. If your children return to their old schools, or old friends’ houses before they have established enough connections or roots in their new community, it can be painful and delay their adjustment.

Kerry Brown Hasbrook, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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