Moving is hard for the whole family, but it can be especially difficult for kids who feel like they don’t have any control. Whether you’re moving across town or around the world, your children might feel stressed or overwhelmed. In fact, younger children can become clingy or have emotional outbursts that are inappropriate for their age after a move. And both young children and adolescents who have moved are more likely to need mental health treatment than their peers who haven’t moved. However, you can take simple steps to help your child face the changes that come with moving and adjust well.
Use these tips to keep your child busy on moving day, help them feel included in the process and cope with the changes in their surroundings.
Tips for moving day
- Make them responsible for a box
If your children are old enough, make them responsible for a box or two. They can pack their favorite toys or belongings in the box and decorate the outside. Decorating the outside will keep them busy while you’re trying to pack, and being responsible for a box will help them feel included.
- Create a moving box movie theater
Download a couple of your child’s favorite movies to your iPad or tablet. Then turn a large moving box (a wardrobe box works especially well) into a movie theater. Cut one side of the box off to make it three sided. Then, pin up a sheet on the open side with heavy duty safety pins to create a curtain. Add a couple of pillows and a blanket to the inside to create a special cubby for your kid to watch movies while you or your movers load the truck.
- Introduce the kids to the movers
If you hire professional movers, introduce them to your children when they arrive. Both parties will feel a little more at ease if they know each other’s names. You can also keep your kids entertained by asking them to take bottles of water to the movers or having them help hold doors open.
- Have a moving day surprise
Consider getting your child a new book or small toy and giving it to them on moving day. This surprise can brighten up a stressful day, and the new gift will keep them busy while you’re doing last minute packing and loading the truck.
- Load their boxes last
Put items from your child’s room in the truck last, or ask the movers to do so. These items will then be the first ones off the truck, allowing you to get your child’s room set up quickly. They’ll be able to get to toys and other entertaining items when you’re unpacking, and they’ll feel more comfortable once their room is set up.
- Get a babysitter
Moving day is hectic and stressful. It may be best if your children can stay with friends or relatives the day of the move. You can also ask if your child could stay with a friend of theirs on moving day. It will give them a chance to have time with someone they may not regularly see anymore after the move.
Tips to help kids cope with a move
It's easy to get wrapped up in the preparations for a move and accidentally forget about the importance of talking with your children. Make time every day to talk with your children and actually listen to how they feel. Letting them know you understand when they’re upset can make a big difference to them.
- Stay in touch with friends
Help your child stay in touch with their friends and family back home by sending letters and arranging visits. If going back isn’t possible, work on arranging for a friend or family member to visit your new home within the first few months of moving to help with the transition.
- Keep your family routine
Of course you’ll need to adapt your new environment, but that doesn’t mean everything has to change. For example, if you always have pizza and watch a movie on Friday nights, keep doing that, at least while you’re settling in. Sticking to your family routine can make big changes like moving a little more manageable for kids.
- Help your child make friends
An active social life helps kids settle into a new place. Sign your children up for extracurricular activities where they can meet kids their age. Encourage friendships, but don’t force them. Your child will need some time to adjust and to form close friendships. Make sure to welcome any new friends, and allow your child to invite friends over.
- Let them help with decisions
Keep your child involved in your moving process. Take them with you when you pick out a new home, and, if possible, let them have a say in which school they attend. Having choices makes a big difference in how a child will react to a new environment, especially older kids who have a clear idea of what they want out of their living situation.
- Go exploring
Let your children help plan adventures in your new destination as a way to get them excited about the move. Having fun trips and experiences to look forward to will keep the focus on the positive attributes of moving and help ease the pain of leaving everything familiar behind.
Tips for moving overseas
An international move can have particularly significant repercussions for your family. Psychologists describe the phenomenon of extreme emotional distress many children experience when they move abroad as “expat child syndrome” (ECS).
While some mood swings and other changes in attitude should be expected during and immediately after your move, there are some clear signs your child is suffering from ECS. Note that not every child will exhibit every symptom of ECS and that this is not a definitive list:
- Aggressive behavior
- Unwillingness to cooperate
- Withdrawn behavior
- Disruptive behavior
Moving away from their familiar home, family, friends and country can completely disrupt children’s lives and cause them to act out in disruptive and abnormal behaviors. The good news is most children eventually outgrow ECS and learn to love their new environments with time and nurturing.
All of the tips listed above will help your child cope with an international move and prevent or help them overcome ECS.
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