“I’m worried about the kids.” It’s the first thing parents tell me when I talk to them before or after a move. I’ll tell you what I tell them. It’s going to be hard. There will be tears. Moving can be an exciting adventure, but moving also means leaving loved ones behind. It’s understandable that your child feels sad about moving. Allow her to feel that way. It’s just as important to mourn the loss as it is to look ahead to the good times in the future.
Recognize that Each Child Reacts to the Move in His Own Way
When Brooke’s parents broke the news about moving from Rochester, NY to Montreal, Canada, she reacted with joy. “Great! I’m outta here.” No, Brooke wasn’t miserable in Rochester. She loved living there and playing with her friends on the cul-de-sac every day. As Brooke remembers it now as an adult, she felt excited about the move and didn’t give much thought to the fact she would be moving away from her friends. Amazingly, Brooke still remains friends with the neighborhood kids decades later.
From the many families I’ve interviewed, this optimistic response isn’t the most common reaction to moving. Many kids burst into tears. Others calmly state, “Okay. You can move, but I’m not coming with you.” And many more slam doors and yell, “I hate you. You’ve ruined my life.”
Some children may go through all of these reactions at different times throughout the move. If there are multiple children in your family, the kids might feed off of each other’s emotions. You may also be surprised by which of your children has the most difficult time with the move. Whatever your child’s reaction may be, it’s natural. Give it time and allow your child to mourn the loss of your home, his friends, his school, and his activities.
Outline What Will Be the Same and What Will Be Different
What happens in a move is second nature to us as adults. We understand that we pack our things, put the items in a truck, and they’ll be waiting for us at our new home. Kids don’t play video games about moving. They don’t read books or watch TV shows that go through the logistics of moving. If this is your child’s first move, the process will be foreign to her. Your child may not understand that the family pet will be moving with you. These types of misunderstandings can lead to unnecessary worry.
Explain to your child what will stay the same and what will be different after the move. This will help your child make sense of things in a world that feels upside down right now. To make it visual, create a board that shows “Same” and “Different”. Draw pictures together or make lists. Try not to feel anxious about including differences or what may seem like the downsides of moving. Maybe your new place will be smaller because you are moving to a more expensive city or perhaps your child will be taking the bus to school for the first time. Your child wants to understand what is going on and it will help her feel prepared for the future.
Provide Extra Reassurance at Nighttime
Children handle emotions differently than adults do. As adults, we talk about having a good day or a bad day. Kids live more on a good minute or bad minute basis. I’m exaggerating slightly, but as parents we’ve all seen it. The hysterical cry over a fall on the playground quickly converts to squeals of joy when the ice cream truck pulls into the park. The lesson isn’t that you should give your child ice cream or a new puppy to make the tears go away. Instead, recognize that your child feels sad about moving even if he doesn’t always show it.
Your child’s feelings about the move will be most pronounced at nighttime. Be ready for the questions or tears at this time of day. Schedule twenty minutes with each child at night to provide extra snuggles or to read a story. If you can, try to do this for the first few weeks after a move. I know you have a lot going on right now with the new job and unpacking. Nevertheless, these nighttime gestures will go a long way in showing your child that everything is going to be okay.
Your Child Feels Sad Now, But The Future Is Bright
Parents in the midst of the moving process worry about their child’s feelings. When I talk to parents one year after the move, they all describe how the move increased their child’s confidence and self-esteem. In addition, the number of happy memories created in their new home soon outweighed the unhappy thoughts about the past. Because your child lived through a major upheaval and survived, she’ll know that she can conquer any challenge that comes her way. That’s an impressive life lesson to teach your child at any age.
Moving also creates special bonds between family members. Whenever we moved, my kids only had each other, so they would play together and look after one other. Gilbert Ian-Rueda moved as a child and he describes how this strengthened the bond with his sister even into adulthood, “I know what it’s like to move from your home to a new neighborhood where you don’t know anyone as a child. Luckily, I had my older sister with me, who’s always been by my side. She showed me that moving to a new place isn’t scary, because it’s a new start and you get to be whoever you want to be.”
The Kids Will Be All Right
Try to put your guilt aside. Your child will be fine. In fact, your child will be better than fine. In the meantime, it’s okay that your child feels sad. Be there for her, give her hugs, and be optimistic about the move. Also, ice cream never hurts.