Research-Based Parent Education and Support

Moving With Children

Posted by on Jun 22, 2015 in Child Rearing | 0 comments

Moving With Children

The day before her graduation from Middle School, Ashley was told by her parents that her family was moving to a different state over the summer.   What made the news especially shocking to Ashley was her parents’ acknowledgement that they had known of the impending move for months but had chosen not to tell her in order to shield her from uncertainties and logistical challenges.   Ashley arrived at school on the final morning of 8th grade and tearfully shared the news with her friends and classmates that she would not be joining them in high school as they had assumed.

Four year old Megan has been preparing for an international move all her life.  Megan’s mother, in an effort to prepare the family, speaks of the impending move on a daily basis,  a habit she has kept up through her husband’s graduate program and subsequent internship.  “Someday we will live in China,” Mom has told Megan from the time Megan could speak.  The family has planned for and anticipated the sale and/or storage of most of their possessions for several months.  Most of Mom’s friends know that this is not an easy move for her as evidenced by the way she discusses their future plans during every play date and meet ups in the community.  The family is willing to make the “sacrifice” of living in China for a few years in order to benefit Dad’s career.

Although these two scenarios may be extreme, they are real and are recent events I have personally witnessed.  Both sets of parents have good intentions and want to make their significant family moves a positive experience for their children.  However, both sets of parents made some key mistakes that will make the transition more difficult for their children, mostly due to the fact that each family failed to consider developmentally appropriate preparations given the ages of their daughters.

As with most decisions parents are faced with while bringing up their children, there is no one right way to prepare a child for significant transitions.  However, there are a few key elements to keep in mind that can help make the transitions more smooth for the entire family.

1.  Keep family routines going as normally as possible – both before and after the move. 

Routines offer children a sense of security and normalcy as they provide boundaries for their daily lives.  Children find comfort in the knowledge that schedules and expectations remain the same despite experiencing big changes.

2.  Be honest with the children and share a developmentally appropriate amount of information.

Young children who do not yet have a built in sense of time cannot anticipate events that will happen in the future the same way older children can.  A four year old has a hard time distinguishing between yesterday, last week or last month, and she likewise will have difficulty knowing the difference between tomorrow and next year.

A middle school student, on the other hand, has a more clear understanding of time and has begun planning for and anticipating the future.  Many schools require students to choose electives for the following school year during the spring, and they must decide their preferences for various activities several months in advance.

3.  Show respect for your child’s belongings and treasures in a developmentally appropriate manner.

If objects need to culled, whether sold or given away, determine the level of attachment each child has to various things.  Young children show definite emotional preferences for certain toys and objects and these need to receive priority in a move.  Other toys, clothing or pieces of furniture may not hold a special place in a child’s heart, but if the suggestion is made to the  child that it must be parted with, or if the child is given a choice, the object may grow more precious to them.  Children of all ages, as well as adults, can become overwhelmed by choices and may attach undue worth to an item when faced with the decision of what to shed and what to keep.  Offer limited choices to young children and avoid involving them in the details of parting with too many things.

One trick that has worked for our family, is to pack toys and things away temporarily, perhaps during nap time or some other time the child is not observing.  If the child notices and asks for specific items, they can easily be retrieved.  If the items are not missed after a few weeks or a month, then they can be given away, disposed of or sold.

Older children must be given more autonomy in what to bring and what to leave behind.  If space or weight is limited, allow the child to pack and prioritize things herself, with certain guidelines in place so that all the clothes are not left behind in favor of a pet rock collection for instance.  Allow the child to fill a box or suitcase or two of things that are special and hold value to her.

4.  Allow each child to have the opportunity for closure and to say goodbye to both people and places.

Visit places that have special memories and feelings attached.  Go to the elementary school one final time, even if it is empty during the summer.  Host a going away party or gathering for friends and acquaintances.  The event need not be lavish requiring excessive planning and expense but rather a simple time and place for people to gather to say farewell and take pictures.  Perhaps a playtime at a local park or pool eating popsicles for young children, or an outing to get manicures for a middle schooler.

Finish well.  Time the farewells to occur near the departure date, not too early, remembering that children’s sense of time is not the same as ours.

5.  Talk about the move in positive terms, allowing the child’s level of interest and questions drive the conversations.

Keep the conversations about moving upbeat and happy, while balancing the feelings of sadness the child might hold in her heart.  Allow room for your child to feel sad feelings and talk about them while also providing optimistic and encouraging words.

6.  Keep adult worries and difficulties between adults.

Schedule time to have adult conversations away from the children.  Avoid the trap of allowing your child to become your confidant as you feel the loss of your own support system and friends.  Seek out new friendships for yourself away from your child without feeling guilt.  Allow yourself time to be away from your child occasionally.  The mental health of parents has direct impact on children;  please nurture yourself and your relationships for the sake of your children (and yourself).

7.  Maintain ROUTINES.

Big changes are not easy and bring both new challenges as well as new opportunities.  Transitions require flexibility and good humor, while also taxing the emotions of all involved.  Maintaining the routines from home is a good way for every family member to feel safety and consistency through change.

8.  Allow yourself time to grieve and adjust and forgive yourself if things do not go as planned. Show the same grace to your children.

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