Imagine leaving the only place you’ve ever lived. As it is, your child’s days are full of surprises and new experiences. When it comes to moving to a new place to live, it takes a lot of early preparation to ensure a smooth transition for your family.
A few months ago my husband and I moved across the country with our 3 year old son. My son loved our house full of his favorite toys and a big back yard. We even have a video of him talking about how much he loves his house. So when we decided it was time to move, we needed a plan for a big lesson in saying goodbye, and learning to trust and feel safe in a new environment.
Here are some things we tried to help ease the transition:
Start early, start small
Shortly after deciding to move I started to mention here and there about the concept of moving. I shared stories about where I grew up, where other family members live, and pointed out moving trucks on the road. Our house didn’t have stairs, and I knew the new place does, so I would say something like “I wonder what it would be like to live in a house with stairs?” Keep the conversations light and short. Leave out any details about when and where you are moving. The most important message is that moving is normal, moving is fun, and the unknown can be exciting. Allow your child to be imaginative and form his idea of what moving means.
House number 1, 2, 3
If you have photos of when you were little and taken in the house you grew up, share those with your child. Talk about how many different places you’ve lived. Number the houses so the one your child lives in now is his house number 1, and someday he will move to house number 2.
Paint a picture
Find images of places and activities in the new neighborhood online so you can show to your child that there are some fun places he might enjoy when you visit that town or city in the future.
Using doll houses and building blocks to create a scene where a family is moving. Pack up little boxes, put them on a truck, and make a map of where they’ll go. Make sure to show that everything they need (all the toys, books, furniture) will all be packed. Act out different scenes where one child is happy about the move and another is sad about the move. Talk through it using the dolls and puppets.
They can be as simple as few pieces of folded paper with stick figure drawing, books are a great way to illustrate what happens during the move. Make the books with your child. Create a step-by-step guide for what will happen the days before and after the move. If you include images of the family, make sure the family is shown being together.
Make a second book about how many things can change (like the weather, your clothes, what you eat everyday), but the one thing that will not change is how much mommy and daddy love you and will always keep you safe.
Read these books often.
A welcome package
Mail your child a special letter or package pretending it’s from the new house. It can include photos of his new bedroom, a floor plan, some small toys or a special toy key for the new home.
Moving is a good time to clean out your child’s toy box. The tough part is that many children can remember every single one of their toys. So don’t do this while your child is in the house. Group his favorite must have toys together and leave those to pack in the end. When the time comes, your child can help pack up the box and decorate it with stickers and markers to clearly identify it.
The toys he has out grown can be donated and any broken toys can be tossed. The ones that haven’t been played with in a while, but you are not sure if it’s time to let them go will go in another box. You can leave it in the box after the move, if your child doesn’t ask for them after a few weeks you can safely donate it.
During our move I sold some of the bigger toy bikes and plastic play structure. I explained to my son that he’s getting too big for them and they should go to a smaller baby. We spent an afternoon playing with them and said good bye to them. Then I moved them out of sight until I was able to sell them.
Keeping in touch
Set up a way to keep in touch with your child’s favorite play mates. Give each other pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes so they can send each other drawings and letters. The children can have a sticker exchange, or set up regular video chats.
Saying good bye
It is very important for your child to say good bye to the house on the day of the move. He will be sad once he learns that you will not be going back, so be prepared and allow him to have those feelings. Let him know it’s ok to feel that way and you will also miss living there, but it is time to say good bye. Then remind him of the welcome package at the new place and how excited you are to show him his new bedroom.
Personalize the space
Once you arrive at your new home, give your child a tour of his new room and where mommy and daddy will be. When you unpack, start with your child’s room first and add something to personalize the room for your child. Once your child feels there’s a place for him and is excited to see his toys again, you will have some uninterrupted time to unpack the rest of the boxes.
It’s been about 4 months since we moved. My son has transitioned very well to his new environment and made some new friends. We still talk about his house number 1. He still asks about his old toys when we watch videos from when he was younger. We share our feelings about missing our old house, but what we like about our new home. Every once in a while he’ll ask if we will bring certain things to our next house. I assured him that we will and that we will be staying put for a while, but at least I know he is emotionally prepared for the next move.