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Does this picture look familiar? I am sure it does if you have moved or relocated cities with kids. In this photo my kids are building a box fort in their room while unpacking boxes after our recent move. A couple of weeks back we moved between cities. If you have ever moved you know how stressful it can be. Now add to that two tweens and a year-old puppy. Moving houses just became a gargantuan act.
Imagine if it seems overwhelming to you, how overwhelming it must be for a child!
But it doesn’t need to be that way. The first thing to remember is that kids are resilient but like us they have emotions. At times they feel things much more deeply than we do because unlike us they do not, yet, have the tools to deal with big emotions. As adults we can help minimize the stress that children or young adults feel during the relocation process.
The first step is to be transparent with kids about why you are moving. Unless you have a newborn or an infant, share with your little humans why you have decided to relocate your family. Is it because of a new job? Are you moving to stay close to your family? Will the new home allow you to have some extra space for your family? Communicate openly and clearly. If you think there is a good reason for the family to move, your kids will understand it as well, not immediately but eventually.
Speak to them about this as soon as you and your partner or spouse have made the decision. Do not wait for the last minute or the right time. Kids pick up on cues very well, so they will get a sense that something is going on. But they will feel less anxious if you share the news with them. These are those moments when trust is built.
Once you have shared the news with your children, allow them time to absorb the news. When my husband and I first shared the news, there were tears involved. They still get sad every now and then, which is okay. One of the powerful things you can ask your kids is, ‘How can I help?’ Acknowledge the fact that they will miss their friends and their teachers. For a young child it is a big deal.
This is also a time to show them that their feelings are justified by sharing honestly with them how you feel. I am sure you feel a sense of loss despite the excitement of the move (whatever be the reason). You have neighbors, friends and a community that you are leaving behind. Here’s what I shared with my kids, ‘Yes I am going to miss my friends but I am going to make new friends and I am excited about that’. It’s also okay to be excited about certain aspects of the move while being sad about others.
From packing to picking a room for themselves, involve the kids in the planning process. It is after all a move for the entire family. The planning can start right at the very beginning of the home-hunt process. The moment my husband and I decided that we needed to move our family, we would sit down with our kids whenever we could and show them the online pictures of the houses we liked. When we short listed houses for us to visit we would make sure that the kids tagged along.
If you are planning to paint your new home, sit down with your kids and have them look at paint colors along with you, listen to their opinion and share yours. Have your kids help you pack, send them to their rooms with boxes to pack their toys. After the move while you are unpacking, unleash your kids’ creative side by encouraging them to decorate their rooms. Have them play a part in where the furniture in their rooms go. Make suggestions when needed but let them take an initiative to plan their room’s layout. Make it fun by planning a shopping trip or a makeover for their new space.
The biggest concern with a move is the feeling of isolation one has as one has to leave their friends and community. Help your kids in staying connected with their old friends. If your child doesn’t have a phone yet, write down your phone number in multiple sticky notes and give them to your children so they can share it with their buddies. That way you can later coordinate with the parents to organize a playdate.
As your child feels anxious about losing their old friends they can feel overwhelmed about making new ones at your new place. Take trips around the new neighborhood either before your move or after to meet your new neighbors. This is as useful for the kiddos as it is for you as adults. Connect with other parents in your neighborhood so you can help your little ones find friends. If you are moving during warmer months this is easier as walks around the neighborhood is a great way to introduce yourselves to nextdoor families. Otherwise there are multiple online platforms like Nextdoor, Facebook groups etc.
I cannot stress enough about this - there is no such thing as over-prepared when it comes to relocating your family. As soon as you have finalized your new home, start planning your move. There are also portable moving containers or PODS available where you can temporarily store your boxes in the driveway until you are ready to move and unpack. The first and foremost is figuring out your kids’ school situation. If your kids can continue at the same school even after relocating then you are among the very rare families. Figure out what verification documents are needed at the new school as well as procedures of transferring all certificates from the old school so the transition is seamless. Take a tour of the new school if they allow it and do it with your children so they can get familiar with the space.
The important thing to remember while packing is to make sure essential items are packed separately, preferably in suitcases, so that the items you need immediately are not buried in boxes. A strategy I used is I packed our suitcases, like I was going on a vacation, with at least a week’s worth of clothes and toiletries.
While you plan which items need to go into which boxes, don’t forget that your kids’ favorite toys and stuffies need to be packed separately in their backpacks so they can have familiar items to play with or sleep with at the new home. A great way to keep the little ones engaged during and after the move is to have their bikes, scooters or some outdoor games available and handy so on the moving day they can have something to play with. If possible, connect with parents and ask if they would be willing to have a playdate for a few hours at their place. Do not hesitate to ask your friends for help if they would be willing to watch your children for a few hours.
Next, don’t forget the essentials as in the internet connection. Plan ahead so you can have the internet transferred to your new place as quickly as possible after your move. Believe me this is a win-win situation for all. Set aside your screentime rules for these few days and have them watch shows so they can stay entertained. You will need the streaming services as well when you need a break from unpacking or want to sit down and rest your weary limbs.
Last but not the least is that you know your family and your kids best. You are also the best decision maker of when is the right time for your family to relocate. There are multiple schools of thought about what is a good age for your children to transfer to a new school or a new community. Please know that ‘there is no worst age to move your child’. Every age presents its own set of challenges while you are relocating. The best you can do is listen to your children’s concerns and be there for them as they get used to this change in their lives.
A key thing to note is to remember to ‘be kind to yourselves’, probably a very critical reminder to keep it stress-free. No matter how well you prepare, things will fall through the cracks. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Take a break, allow yourself rest or a spa day (or half-day). You might think this will take time away from settling in but you will come back with restored energy and tackle the tasks at hand better after a relaxed few hours. Even a quick hug, a bowl of ice-cream or watching a show together with your family will do wonders for your spirit and your tired bones.
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