Moving is often said to be one of life’s biggest stresses, sharing the list with other events such as marriage and having children. Adults often adversely feel the effects of moving, but how much more confusing must it be for toddlers and preschoolers? Children at this age are grounded by the reliability of routines and familiarity and by knowing what to expect in their day-to-day. Where some tots will adjust, seemingly unruffled, to their new housing arrangement and the obvious upset moving can cause, others can act out in this upheaval with disruptions to sleep routines, meltdowns, and out-of-character behaviour. Our children are remarkably perceptive of our own emotions, too. If parents are overwhelmed with moving stress, you can be certain junior is reading those feelings and will be more prone to mirroring them. Thankfully children so young are relatively easy to distract and influence emotionally. There are steps you can take to minimize the disruption and build excitement for a move, in hopes that your young child(ren) will find the transition easier.
Before your planned moving date make a family visit to the new neighbourhood. Take a tour. Locate the closest parks and recreational facilities, and dream with your child as you do so. Verbally create scenes of the fun you will have once you move. For example, ask your child about their favourite part of a park in your new neighbourhood. Talk to him about visiting the park in the summertime, about how high the swings must go, about what kinds of animals might visit that park. Create a scene in the mind of your child filled with the comforting feelings he is familiar with at his old house. Explain, in happy tones, about how this new place will be the place you visit when he wants to fly down a slide or climb on monkey bars. If your child has sad feelings allow him to talk about them, but try to model a positive attitude so he can take his emotional cues from you. If mom or dad think the park is great, and that playing there will be exciting, what is there to fear? If your child will be attending a different daycare or preschool, or need to change where he takes part in leisure activities, familiarize him with where he will be going. Dig deep into the childlike imagination we used to exercise daily and let him walk alongside you into the wonderland of making new friends and being presented with new opportunities.
If you are able to get possession of your new house prior to your actual move, take your children to the new house to do some room planning. There is a certain magic to an empty house awaiting new lives to fill it. Every room is an empty canvas awaiting the brush strokes – of furniture, decorations, and your family’s personality – to create a masterpiece. Let your child run, roll, and crawl around the empty, unclaimed space. Go room-to-room and ask for her input. Where would she like her bedroom to be? Where will her bed, her toy box, her dresser, go? How does she think the living room should be set up? Where should you put the family pictures? The more control your child feels over the situation the more grounded she’ll feel when you move in. If she can help you decide where her familiar items go the place will feel more like her own.
Parents who have moved often since the advent of their parenthood can attest to the effectiveness of these strategies. While it is still prudent to anticipate some emotional upheaval – you know your child best and how s/he reacts to change – you will hopefully find that these small steps create a happy moving environment for your child.