Most of us move during our lifetime. Many of us move many times. Relocation is almost an American pastime. Yet for children, relocation, moving, can be very frightening. For children, moving as in relocation, means tearing them away from all that is familiar and relocating to an place they don’t know, with people they don’t know and a whole situation with which they aren’t familiar. It is scary. Relocation can be a bit scary even for adults.
What can parents do to help children acclimate to the idea of relocation without being overly traumatized? As much as possible, keep the children in the loop. Let them know their opinions and feelings matter. Explain why the move is not optional and that relocation is necessary. Talk to them about the new possibilities available at the relocation destination.
Even before moving, check out the school, church and neighborhood situations. During a relocation, keep in mind what is best not just for the adults in the family, but also what works for the children. Make contact with those in the relocation destination.
Treat moving and the relocation as an adventure for the children. Be positive about the benefits of the relocation destination. Get the children involved. Go online and show them the neighborhood in which they’ll be living. Let the children see a picture of the very house to which they’ll be moving. Just seeing the actual relocation destination may set aside some of the children’s fears.
Get children involved in helping with moving. Assign them specific tasks according to their age and abilities. If the children are very young, make some time for them to “help” you pack their beloved belongings. Older children may be able to pack their own favorite toys and stuffed animals. Often children may be very slow at packing because they are children and because relocation, moving, is still a little frightening for them. Try not to let your frustration or impatience at their pace become words or actions that escalate a tense situation and frighten the children, making them even more hesitant about the relocation.
Children may worry about moving, may worry that if they pack their special things, those items may disappear forever. Reassure them that their things are important and are being packed so they will be available at the relocation destination. Help them see moving as fun and exciting.
Let each of the children pack a small bag to take with them as they travel to the relocation destination. Depending on how far the family is moving, the bag might include a change of clothes and night clothes. Make sure, depending upon the age of the children, that the bag includes that favorite blanket and or snuggle toy as well as games, crayons, paper and other supplies to keep them busy and occupied while traveling to the relocation destination.
Even if you use a GPS, look up the route online and print out copies the children can follow while moving to the new location.
When I was young, we moved every few years because my father, as a pastor, would be called to a different church. Once we reached elementary age, my sister Karin and I were given specific tasks to complete both before and after moving. This kept us busy, engaged and safely out of the way of the movers.
What I remember most as we got older was the assignment to reconstruct Karin’s bed. Dad had made her a bed that was easily taken apart and put back together. As soon as possible after we reached our relocation destination, he’d have the parts of the bed placed in what was to be our bedroom and hand us the appropriate tools-pliers and screwdrivers. He’d leave us putting the bed together while others brought in the rest of furniture and boxes. Karin always hated moving. I loved moving. But having something to do helped both us get involved and feel good about our contribution to getting the new household set up and about moving.
As soon as possible after moving, get involved with the neighborhood. Don’t wait for neighbors to come to you, take the children and meet the neighbors. Get involved with school, with church. Visit the library.
With a little time, effort and consideration, children will find that moving doesn’t have to be so scary after all. Helping the children serves to take some of the scare out of the relocation for the adults as well.