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Moving house is one of the single most stressful experiences adults go through, so what's it like for kids, and how can you help them fall adjust to their new surroundings?

Moving house is one of the most stressful life experiences adults encounter — along with divorce, job loss, the death of a loved one, and serious illness. Having moved house more than a few times myself, including internationally, I relate. There's the financial worries, the bureaucracy, the required organizational skills... but more than that, there's the fact that moving house represents, in a very real sense, the end of an era and a diving into the unknown. 

Adults who've moved around quite a bit, and over long distances, know the drill. They know that leaving a familiar life behind is hard, that people always say they'll stay in touch but rarely do, that a new normal will gradually arise, and that new treasured spots and routines will be found with time, along with new friends, new jobs, and hopefully the newfound sense that this new place, too, is "home". Even so, moving remains stressful. 

 

If you've experienced the stress of moving, you can easily imagine how much harder leaving a home and familiar life behind is on some children. If a move is in your family's near future, how can you practically help your kids prepare and get through it all, though?

 

Helping Well-Settled Kids Move

If you've never moved since becoming a parent, so your upcoming move will be the first time your children have this experience, but you are also planning for this move to be the first and final in a long time, your challenge is different from the challenge families who move house often face.

Your kids will swap one very settled home environment for another. This may be a bigger adjustment than it is for people who move often, but they'll probably only have to make it once.

 

Regardless of your children's ages, the following tips can apply:

  • If possible, and if you think this will work well for your family's way of life and for your children, involve your kids in the process of choosing your new home. You can do this by viewing homes together and making everyone part of the decision-making process, but also, if it is more feasible, by allowing your children to voice the things they'd most like to see included in their new home environment, such as a yard, or a new school within walking distance. It can also, crucially, include allowing your kids to have as much control as possible over what their rooms will look like. 
  • Give your children time to say goodbye to their old neighborhood, home, and life. 
  • Moving house can be a grieving process. Acknowledge this and adjust your expectations of your children's behavior accordingly. Being sad is OK, and it doesn't mean that they won't grow to love their new home. 
  • Include your children in the process of moving — packing, unpacking, getting to know their new neighborhood, researching extracurricular activities, and painting are all activities children can help with. 

Toddlers and preschoolers can benefit if you read story books about moving to them, and discuss what the new home and neighborhood will be like. They will appreciate having their bedrooms look similar to the ones they left behind, and returning to a routine that resembles the one they are used to.

Elementary-aged children's fears and hopes are most likely to be related to leaving their school friends behind, and finding a place within their new schools. Documenting their academic successes and struggles will help their new teachers learn more about them. On the whole, however, elementary-aged kids are quite open to moves and will handle them well after initial hurdles. 

For teens, who are in the middle of their existential, identity-exploring phase, moves are likely to be a lot harder. Be honest with them, make sure to listen to their feelings and answer their questions, and help them through the hard initial period of settling in by being patient. 

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