How to Prepare Your Kids for a Move

Moving houses with kids in tow can be difficult, so we've collected expert advice to help you transition your family with ease.

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Illustration by Ana Albero

Colleen Parker, a mom of three, knows all about moving with kids. Her family has relocated three times in the past four years. Abbygail, now nine, and Kayla, now eight, were too young to feel much anxiety about their first out-of-province move, to St. John’s, N.L., in 2010 (younger brother Nathan was born there). But Parker managed the girls’ stress on subsequent moves—first to Barrie, Ont., and most recently to nearby Innisfil—by ensuring they were up to speed from the get-go.

“We tried to involve them in everything and give them a heads-up about what was coming,” she says. Parker’s approach was the right one, according to Kathy Lynn, a Vancouver parenting speaker and author of But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home (Whitecap Books). She says that keeping kids in the loop from the start is critical. “Tell them what’s happening and why you’re moving,” says Lynn.

Use the Internet to Get Acquainted to Your New Neighbourhood

Next, get them excited about it. Adrienne Gartner, a Calgary relocation specialist with Welcomehome Relocations, notes that the Internet can be a great way to get to know a new area. For example, by using Google Street View you can virtually tour your future neighbourhood, including the school, parks and house. With the help of online photos (often available via the MLS), kids can get to know their new digs before setting foot through the door and even lay claim to a space for themselves.

Parker says that to give the girls something positive to focus on with the family’s recent move, she let them select paint colours and furnishings for their new bedrooms. Getting the kids to pitch in is another way to help them feel like the whole family is in it together, says Lynn. “Let them do some of the packing so they feel like this isn’t a move that is being foisted on them—even if it’s just adding a few towels to a box.” And be sure to have them pack a few treasured items in a backpack to keep safely with them on moving day.

How to Address the Emotional Effects of Moving

Before breaking out the boxes, Mary DeRemer, a licensed psychologist at Montreal Children’s Hospital, suggests letting kids take pictures of their rooms and favourite spots, which can be compiled into a keepsake scrapbook.

To deal with the trickier task of saying goodbye to friends, Lynn advises throwing a party so children can exchange contact info. Parker distributed envelopes to her daughters’ classes in St. John’s and asked all of the kids to write their addresses on them. Gartner points out that Skype is also handy for staying connected with old friends.

Practical matters aside, the emotional aspects of moving are likely to be the most difficult, and temperament plays a big part in how kids will cope. “Even within the same family, some are going to really want to embrace it and fly with it and others are going to want to hold on,” says DeRemer. Parker found this to be true with her daughters. While Abbygail was gung-ho about the latest move, change-averse Kayla struggled.

Lynn says it’s important to let kids be sad about saying goodbye, adding that it’s vital to validate these normal feelings. Just keep an eye out for behaviour changes that signal stress, such as sleep disruptions, not eating as much and increased clinginess. DeRemer suggests holding weekly meetings to discuss how things are going, as well as exploring and problem-solving any fears that may come up.

The Benefits of Moving During the School Year

Though summer may seem like the perfect time to move, the structure and social opportunities provided by school can actually help with the transition. “If you move during the school year, the teacher will know that your child is new and be able to be supportive,” says Lynn.

If school is already out, set up some activities for the kids ahead of time. You can register them for day camps, summer programs at the community centre, sports leagues and even daycare well in advance. DeRemer also recommends throwing an open house party and inviting neighbours as a way of introducing yourselves and getting to know other children on your street.

If your child is still worried, DeRemer suggests reminding her that she has been the “new kid” before (remember Kindergarten?) and fared just fine. Most importantly, let your kids know that you’re in it together as a family.

Toronto-based writer Dory Cerny isn’t moving until she’s successful in her quest to find a four-bedroom house with parking.

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