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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moving house with children

Have you ever had one of those crazy nightmares where you found yourself in a strange place that was full of people and items you recognised, but thrown together in a peculiar way or weirdly altered by your subconscious?  Or perhaps in your dream you started out in a room that you recognised, but then stepped outside the door and discovered a completely alien environment.

If you have had one of those dreams, I'm sure you'd agree that the effect is horribly unsettling. Yet that's what parents often inflict on their children in real life.  It's called 'moving house'.

Researchers agree that moving house is one of the extreme stresses of life, right up there with losing a parent or being sacked from your job.  It's easy for a parent to become so consumed by the emotions, expense, complications and practicalities of a move that they accidentally start treating their kids like pieces of furniture- something to be simply picked up and relocated. And then they may feel surprised when their kids start acting out their feelings of dislocation in an unacceptable way, whether at home or at school.

At one of the daycare centres where I work, the director noticed a distinct correlation between kids who had recently moved house and a sudden onset of disruptive behaviour.  Often in these cases the parent or parents had innocently tried to simplify the move by taking the kids to daycare on the morning of the move, spending the day moving without the hassle of children underfoot and then picking up the kids and taking them 'home'- to somewhere they'd never seen or been in their life.  Take your mind back to that disorientating dream, where the people and the furniture are the same, but everything else is completely weird.  That's what those kids experienced.

When you think about it, it's hardly surprising that children would have an emotional reaction to such a change.  Yes, children are very flexible creatures, but you do need to give them a fighting chance to adapt.  It's important to put yourself in your children's shoes and try to look at it from their point of view.

The time to talk to your children about moving house is when you first start thinking about it.  They need time to get used to the idea, just like you do.  Do you know what your children like and dislike about where you live?  What will they miss? What will they be glad to leave behind?  It's important to address these issues with children who are old enough to express an opinion- and that might mean a 3-year-old as much as a teenager.  And even with smaller children, it's important to talk to them about moving.  They understand a lot more than they can express.  TELL THEM what's happening.

It might sound impractical to take your children with you when you go house-hunting, but if you can manage it, it may make the move a lot smoother for all concerned.  If your child is freaked out by the carvings on the gateposts or the spooky cupboard under the stairs, the best time to find out is BEFORE you pay a deposit or bond.

When you decide where you're going, take the kids to have a look.  Let them see the place they're coming to, and let them have some input into how the new place will work for them.  Which room will be theirs? What colour will you paint the walls of their bedroom? Where will you put the swing, or the trampoline?  Is it closer to the beach or the pool? Try to create some excitement.

And TALK to them.  Tell them, in simple terms if necessary, why you're moving. Be truthful. If you're sad about having to move, tell them so- don't hide it. Children will usually sense your hidden emotions and worry about them.  Those are the sort of things that translate into behavioural problems. 

Try to be positive; point out the advantages of the move to them.  Will they have a bigger bedroom?  A room of their own? A bigger yard? A playground or park nearby? Will it mean mum or dad will have more time at home to play with them?

If they still get upset about the idea of moving, and some very sensitive children will, you will need to comfort them and do some work to acclimatise them. Again, be honest and positive.  Emphasise the advantages of the move, even if the only advantage is that you're not going to be thrown out on the street for not paying the rent or mortgage you couldn't afford.  Tell them about a time in your own life when you were sad about moving.  Make it clear that it all worked out okay in the end... you survived... good things can happen in new places.

Don't forget to keep telling your kids you love them, and remind them how much their cuddles mean to you at a time of great stress.  If you yourself are completely traumatised- perhaps by losing your home to the bank, or being evicted- this is no time to distance your children from you by pretending everything's fine.  You need each other's love and understanding more than ever.  Great sadness can strengthen your family's bonds of love, if you let it.

Maybe you can enlist another adult to help you move and step in when the kids get tired and grumpy, so that you can let your children take part in the actual process on moving day.  Most children like to help when the task concerns them- dump their furniture and boxes in their new bedroom and leave them to it, popping your head in now and then to encourage them, help them or suggest a break if they look overwhelmed.

Above all, be kind to yourself, and be kind to your kids.  Set up your places to sleep first, and take as much time as you need with the rest. 

Remember to eat properly and feed your kids properly; hungry kids are grumpy kids (and hungry adults aren't much better).  Yes, it's stressful moving house, but put the brakes on your alcohol consumption.  It's no time to drink yourself silly- your kids need you. 

Ask for the help you need to stay positive and in control.  Most people are ready and willing to help you and are just waiting to be asked- swallow your pride and you might be surprised how delighted your friends are to lend a hand, even if it's just to take the kids to the park when they're getting under your feet.

Above all, when something goes wrong- and I've yet to experience a move where something DIDN'T go wrong!- breathe deeply and remember that 'this too will pass'. Yelling and crying with frustration will not help your kids settle.  Try to model acceptance and flexibility, and you might find that you deal with the move better too. 

And the very best of luck to you at a terribly challenging time.


  1. Moving with kids is one of the most problematic and stressful tasks. These suggestions will really help to reduce stress and make the move way easier. On moving day, ensure your children are looked after well by friends or family. removal in London

  2. Some great tips here. And I love the dream analogy . . . yes, that's about what it's like! My oldest is excited to move to Florida (she'll be six this summer). She is primarily concerned about packing her toys and books, as well as what her room will be like. (We have been co-sleeping . . . she's on her own bed in our room, but she and her little sister want their own bedroom to share at the new house. Also, that all of the things we do are still there . . . a park nearby, playground, the library, etc. She also knows this means we can visit grandparents more easily (since we'll be back in the same country and all). Plus, proximity to Mickey Mouse. The younger two will be 4 and 19 months . . . not sure how much of the "moving" vibe they are really picking up so far. They are usually pretty go-with-the-flow with such things, though, and we've travelled a lot with them, so maybe they'll just think it's another vacation? At least at the start. The big hurdle for us will be getting used to the time difference . . . that was really hard on the move overseas.

  3. We are about to throw a double whammy at my 2.5yr old son, we are not only moving house but countries. We have been living in Jakarta for the last year and our contract has come to an end, the extra hard bit is that we are moving home while I am 33 weeks pregnant. Our first port of call will be a serviced apartment while we find somewhere to live and buy a car.

    Our child is very loved here, our housekeeper spends a small amount of time with him each day and I have a babysitter that has helped me out 2 days a week (fully supervised by me), do you have any strategies for helping his grief process of leaving these wonderful people behind? The bonus is that he will be back with his grandparents. He hasn't had a lot of input into the house, neither have we really, to try and speed the process up we have hopefully rented somewhere sight unseen from the internet. Luckily it comes with a cubby and sandpit!

    I am very concerned for him and all the changes he has to deal with in the next 2 months, he has already been showing us some challenging behaviours as we prepare and I am trying my hardest to use positive ways of dealing with them, but we all have our bad days.

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    1. Wow- 2 and a half. Tough one.

      Photos. Photos of the housekeeper and babysitter with him, that he can take with him and talk about with you to help him grieve. You could laminate them and then punch a hole in the corners, tie together with lovely ribbon, or just do one corner and put on a key chain ring- and hey presto, he has a memory book. You could also take pictures of locations he enjoyed- his bedroom, the park.

      Photos of where you are going, to construct things to look forward to. Of the sandpit and cubby especially. Talk about these too.

      Share that you are also sad to be leaving these people behind. Be honest and authentic with him, in simple language. Don't make promises you can't keep, like saying 'We'll see them again soon." Instead keep to "I hope we see them again one day, don't you?" Say that you don't want to leave, if that's how you feel. Say you're wondering what the new house will be like. What colour will his room be? Will it have big windows? etc.

      Is it possible to have phone contact with the people you are leaving once you go? Skype video calls could be a godsend.

      Good luck with it- let us know how you get on!

  4. Thank you for these tips. All these make moving with the kids less stressful.

  5. Involve the children in the process. Letting children help with the move – e.g. helping to pack or unpack, or decide where things will go in the new home – and involving older children in discussions and preparations for the move, can help them to feel empowered, valued and that they have a say.



  6. Give the children positive things to look forward to when they move, explain what will be better, and how. Children have an innate sense of adventure so try tap into this; build up a sense of excitement about the prospect of exploring a new neighbourhood and discovering new friends.


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