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Preparing Your Child for a Big Move (Book Giveaway!)

So, we’re moving this summer. At least, we think we are. The deal isn’t done yet, and we’re not even sure of our exact closing date, which is maddening. But probably, by the end of the summer, our little family will move to our first-ever, very-own home, just about a mile away from our current rental.

Talking about a move with Cee has been interesting. She’s been coming to look at houses with us from the beginning, starting in February. We struggled to explain to her why we were spending so much time dragging her through empty houses. We talked about moving to a new house, and she just looked confused. “Why, Mama?” Why, indeed, would we want to leave the only home she likely remembers? (We moved from Arizona to Oregon when she was 7 months.) What could be better than this house, the place of warm memories and celebrated milestones?

Cee thrives on the familiar. Even though we’ll still be living in the same neighborhood and not much else about her life will change, I know this move will be stressful for her. Heck, moving is stressful for everyone. So what can we do to ease the transition? I’ve had this question at the back of my head all summer.

I received the following guest post a couple of weeks back from the folks at Twigtale, a small parent-owned company that makes custom photo books to help kids with transitions. The Twigtale books are really cool, and I encourage you to check them out. Putting together a custom photo book for a big event is the kind of thing I might intend to do for Cee but never get around to, but Twigtale makes it easy with with a template and text written by child development experts. (Cee loves looking at our photo albums, but you know how long those take to put together. I’m still working on our 2012 family photo book!) So, I’m posting this article for those of you who, like us, might be approaching a move and as a sort of shout-out to Twigtale. They’ve also kindly offered to give away any custom photo book (about moving or any other topic they cover) to one Science of Mom reader. See the end of the post for more details!

Moving Guide – Preparing Your Child for a Big Move

By Allison LaTona, MFT

Summer is here, and with the warm weather and sunshine comes a lot of change for families.  The structure of the year gives way to more down time and loose fun.

Kids may be anticipating a new school year, with new teachers and classrooms, or perhaps starting school for the very first time.  Some parents decide to work on potty learning in the summer, as they can take advantage of the warmth outside providing more “naked time” for their children to better listen to their bodies.  And perhaps most stressful of all, you may be moving this summer.

So the burning question is, how to best prepare your young children for the move?

Toddlers are remarkably resilient.  However, such a big transition can be tough without preparation. The pure logistics alone are complicated enough without your toddlers’ increased tantrums, or your preschoolers’ new clinging and night disruptions to throw you over the edge.  So here are some tips on what to do leading up to the move, during the move, and after the move to ease the transition.

Before the Move

For a young child, it’s best not to share the moving news with them too far in advance.  Toddlers don’t have a great sense of time, so if you tell them too early, you will likely create undue anxiety.  When your child begins to be exposed to concrete indicators of the move, such as visits to the newly purchased or built home, overheard conversations, or bringing out the boxes…it is time to begin to share about the transition, yet with a reassurance on what your child can count on.

Here are some things you can try to get them used to the idea of moving:

  • If you can involve them in the house-hunting process, even if it’s just a little, go for it.  Kids love to explore new spaces, so use this enthusiasm to help you through the arduous process of finding a new home.  You can use the opportunity to get them excited about different possibilities, such as having a big tree to climb on, or a pool in their yard.
  • Visit the new house (if possible).  You can go through each room and explain who is going to live in each room, and draw parallels between your old home and new home.  Think of things about the new home that will excite them – a porch, a yard, a playroom – so there will be something to look forward to.
  • If you don’t have the luxury of visiting the new home, pictures of the new place (house, neighborhood, landmarks) will help as well.  If it’s tough for you to travel to the new place, have a friend or real estate agent take pictures.
  • Take pictures of your old house.  Your old home is full of security and comforts, as well as experiences that your child cherishes.  Even if you see the new house as a big improvement, your child doesn’t have their security created in this new home yet.  You will be creating that together once you are there.  Having pictures to depict these fond memories can help your child process the change better, as it allows them to visit the images when needed, giving them something to hold onto in their heart that which they cannot hold onto in reality.

When you deliver the message that the family is moving, it is important to emphasize to your child that moving means everyone in the family is moving– parents, siblings, pets.  And…it also means that all their favorite things will be coming too!

All that really matters to children is the feeling of safety and security… You and their toys (extensions of themselves) are what create that.    When an unprepared child sees a moving truck drive off with all their things, they do not know the truck is bringing those things to the new house…. this can be a traumatic experience for a child.

My Family is Moving BookSo since children need you to make sense of their experience, be sure to explain what is changing, and since children thrive on predictability and routine, be sure to emphasize what will remain the same.  The family will remain the same, the favorite toys will remain the same, the routine will remain the same.  And most importantly, the love that you all share as a family will continue to be a constant no matter where you live.

Expect to be met with a variety of feelings.  Your child may be excited about the new “adventure”, and apprehensive at the same time.  It can be helpful to talk with your child about the two feelings they are experiencing – one excited or happy, and one sad or worried – and while a bit confusing, it’s okay to have two feelings.  Typically children do not express their feelings verbally, but through their behavior, such as with new night wakings, aggression, defiance or clinging. The better you prepare your child by letting them know what is happening and by giving them the opportunity to have all their feelings, the more easily they will move through the transition.

As you get closer to moving day, you may want to start talking about logistics and involving your child.  You can re-enact what moving day will look like with trucks and a house.  You can draw pictures of moving day together.  You can have the child help pack her favorite toys and let them decorate their box.  These allow your child to process what’s happening through play, and art expression, and give them a sense of control, helping them to work through the change more easily.

Because the visualization of the new home, moving day, saying goodbye to the current home, and dealing with complex feelings are so important to ease the transition, we wrote a Twigtale book to help you with the language and the story.  Since it’s personalized with pictures of your home and your family, it ends up being much more relatable and effective for your child.

Moving Day

The big day is finally getting close!

You’ll be spending a lot of your time packing, and are probably saving the breakable pieces for when your child is napping, sleeping or out of the house.  However, there are times when your child will be home and want to help.  One thing you can do is make up some games to involve your child.  Get a couple extra boxes, and have your child pack and unpack her stuffed animals.  Or allow your child to jump into the box.  You can also have your child draw on boxes that are already packed. The possibilities to give your child a sense of control (thus safety) in this big change are endless.

At some point, carve out time to go through your house with your child and say “Goodbye” (and/or let them take a picture) of their favorite aspects of the house.  You may be surprised by what they choose…”goodbye yard, goodbye apricot tree, goodbye walk-in closet where my toys have lived…”.   This helps your child with closure and gives a sense of holding onto memories.  There may be other things you will want to say goodbye to the day before – neighbors, grocers, friends – anyone your child is used to and may miss.  Also letting your child know they can one day visit (neighbors ,etc) what’s possible can be comforting.

On moving day, you may want to take special care with a particular box for your child filled with their special things, such as their stuffed animals/blankie they sleep with and/or favorite toys.  Show your child what you’re putting in the box, and then label it clearly.  You can put this box in your car instead of the moving van.  When you get to the new house, you can unpack this box first – this will help your child feel at home in the new house and also reinforce that all the important things are moving over to the new house.

See if you can get a babysitter, nanny, or family member to take care of your child during the rest of moving day.  You’ve got enough to do – packing, supervising movers, ensuring nothing is left behind – and you don’t want to be chasing a child around too!  Parents tend to be so distracted during this time, and it is helpful to have someone who can give their full attention to your child to minimize negative behaviors.

Settling into your new home

At the new house, try to get the most important pieces of your child’s room set up first.  Unpack the box with her favorite toys and get those big pieces of furniture in.  Let them make some choices, such as where their train set should go, to help give them a sense of control in their new room.  If your child is comfortable and getting used to her new room, that’ll free up time for you to move in the rest of the house.

Next…set up the kitchen, which may involve a trip to the grocery store.  It’s helpful for your child to know that she can get drinks, snacks, and food just like she did at her old house.  This will be another important step in building confidence in the new home.

Over the course of the first week, spend a lot of time in your child’s new room to help ease the adjustment.  Engage with your child in floor-time with their favorite forms of play, such as blocks, trains, dolls, playing house.  You are joining their world of play in their new room and creating comfort there.  This will help smooth your child’s adjustment to their new room and minimize sleep disruptions that can occur with the change.   You are building security in their new space.

Also, create new rituals in your new home that your child will enjoy and help them fall in love with the change, such as climbing the new tree in the yard, or sitting on the porch swing in the afternoons with lemonade.

Finally, don’t try to do everything at once.  Find time within the first day or two to take your child to a nearby park or just explore the neighborhood on foot (or by bike).  Hopefully you can point out some of the landmarks the child saw in your preparatory photos.

On a similar note, don’t try any big changes on the child on top of moving, like potty learning or moving from a crib to a bed.  You may actually see some regression after a move; this is completely natural.  Your child is adjusting to a new world.

Summary

While a move can be stressful to plan and manage, with a bit of advance planning, you can prepare your child for the big change for a smooth transition.  The key is to communicate what will be the same and what will be different, acknowledge the variety of feelings, and clue your child in on the “plan” so even on a chaotic day, she will recognize what’s happening.  Your child may actually enjoy the adventure!  Best of luck!

La-Tona-picAllison LaTona is a noted parenting consultant and psychotherapist. She has nineteen years of experience counseling children, families, couples and individuals, and has facilitated groups in private practice, as well as at Santa Monica’s Babygroup with Donna Holloran, MSW, for over a decade.  With fourteen years “in the trenches” raising two young children of her own, Allison’s personal path complements her professional credentials.

Summer Books copyGiveaway! Twigtale is offering one free personalized children’s book of your choice. This summer, your child may be going through a number of transitions — moving, sleep training, a new sibling, potty training, and a new school are some common changes. Twigtale’s books are scripted by experts to effectively prepare young children for big changes and are easily personalized with photos, names, and words to be more relevant to your child. Books are custom-printed and shipped the same day so you can get them in the hands of your child.  Go to twigtale.com to browse the selection.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below sharing your stories and tips for how to help ease big transitions for toddlers (moving or otherwise). Giveaway closes at 12 noon EST on Wednesday, July 23, 2013.

 

34 Comments
  1. Sarah #

    Great books! To add to “unpack your child’s room first” I would add “pack your child’s room last, so that they still have a refuge when the rest of the house is in chaos. You can always pack some things but keep the surface looking as familiar as possible.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
    • Funny you would mention this. Just the other day, I started pulling out some boxes so that I could pack up some books in my office – the start of the big packing job, beginning with a room that Cee doesn’t really spend time in. But she was curious about the boxes, and so I started to tell her about packing. It was a useful conversation, because it gave me the chance to start talking about how when we move, we’ll bring ALL our stuff with us, and everything will have to go in boxes so that we can take it to the new house. Cee wanted to pack some of her books, too. I agreed, and we looked for books which were “not her favorites” and packed a box. But she wanted to keep packing. She packed a box of toys that she rarely plays with, and then she started packing a box of stuff for her baby doll. I told her that we should keep baby doll’s stuff out, since we won’t be moving for a long time, and she’ll need a change of clothes and her blankets. Next thing I know, I turn around and Cee has packed a box with her special blanket, her two sleeping dolls (that she sleeps with every night), her sleep sheep, etc, and she says, “Mama, please you help me pack my pillow?” Whoa, whoa, whoa little girl! I think we started a little too early:) No sense of time, I know. This particular move has been stressful because for a while we thought we’d be moving at the end of July, and then everything got pushed later with no set date yet. It’s hard on all of us to not have a move date, but I need to try to protect Cee from that uncertainty.

      Like

      July 17, 2013
  2. Kelly MacDonald #

    The big change we are about to go through with my toddler(2.5 yrs) this week is saying goodbye to our family dog. We have to put him down at 11 years due to sickness. I would love to create a memory book that will let the boys go back and think and look at Scooby pictures.
    Any tips on how to say goodbye. I feel he’s too young to learn about death.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
    • So sorry to hear about your loss. Telling a toddler is particularly hard because you’re right, death is a tough topic to bring up, and toddlers don’t really understand death other than they can’t be with their beloved pet anymore. We at Twigtale actually have a book on the death of a pet — it covers the memories that the child has of the pet, what happened (in age appropriate words), and a tradition you can have to remember the pet. Take a look and see if it works for you — http://www.twigtale.com/books/bye-bye-daisy-death-of-a-pet

      Like

      July 17, 2013
      • Kelly MacDonald #

        I really like this book and would love to make for our family. Can you ship to Canada for me? I would pay for shipping of course!

        Like

        July 18, 2013
        • Just checked for you and yes, we can do it! Shipping to Canada will be $20 through USPS. Just send an e-mail to support@twigtale.com once you place the order. You may have to put in a mock address, like the address of our printer (398 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103) so the system lets you complete the order.

          Like

          July 24, 2013
    • So sorry, Kelly. This has to be sooo hard. I wish I had advice, but I’m not sure how I would handle this either, except to do your best to be honest but in very simple terms. I hope other readers will have some ideas for you. Hugs…

      Like

      July 17, 2013
  3. This may sound like a strange suggestion, but can you transition slowly. A friend of mine moved almost everything in their old house to their new place then kept a few small items and their beds until the very last night. On the last night they celebrated with a moving party, which was like a slumber party in their old house. They told stories about when they first moved there, great things they accomplished in that house, etc. It helped her kids transition to their new home. They felt like they gave the old house one last celebration before they left. They even had a cake to celebrate.

    Add my name to giveaway (onefrugalgirl AT gmail DOT com). The books are a great idea!

    Like

    July 17, 2013
    • This is a great idea, and we might be able to pull something like this off. Thanks!

      Like

      July 17, 2013
  4. We are moving in one month! With two kids- a preschooler and a new toddler! And then going on vacation two weeks later! What were we thinking?!

    My biggest tip for easy transitions is to always let the child voice his or her own feelings and opinions first. I don’t say, “You’re going to LOVE this!” Or, “I bet you feel a bit scared…” I just stay quiet and listen to what they have to say. If they’re struggling to voice feelings, I provide pictures of faces to help them see emotions, and they can choose whichever faces apply. It’s important to me to let my children speak their minds respectfully and freely.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  5. Thanks for this post!! I moved to a different state with my son who is much older than your precious little one. He is not adjusting well and really misses “his old life” and “his old room”. I am hoping that as time passes, he will learn to love his new life and new room. xo 🙂

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  6. Sara #

    Starting to potty train, this book would be great!

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  7. Brooke Lee #

    We haven’t moved yet but are getting ready to move in a month. We’ve been offering a lot of special time (a la Hand in Hand Parenting) to give her the opportunity to process any emotions she might be having and maintain our connection throughout the transition. A book like this is a great idea and would definitely help!

    Like

    July 17, 2013
    • Congrats Brooke! You’re our randomly-chosen winner! I’ll send you an email:)

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  8. Rachelle #

    We will likely be moving with a toddler across the continent in the next year or so, therefore I will definitely keep this handy. I don’t have experience yet with big transitions, so can’t offer tips. However, having traveled quite a bit with my toddler, I know it takes patience and understanding, because the change in routine can get quite overwhelming for them. I’m sure one of those Twigtale picture books would help immensely! Thanks for the chance to win!

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  9. Great post! We are moving to a new state and having a new baby within a few months’ span soon. Lots of transitions coming up for our 3 year old!

    We have done lots of moves already (including an international one), and the thing that helps most is one that was already mentioned in this post: set up their room as soon as possible, so that the new home feels as normal as it can as soon as it can.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  10. Jen #

    We have been making trips as a family to check out the house. Our toddler got to pick out paint colors for her room an her baby sister’s. We have also walked to the near by park which excites her very much.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  11. Like you, we’ve recently moved from a rental to our very first house. We had both our rental and our new house for 1.5 weeks and slowly moved some of our stuff ahead of the big clear everything out move. Every day, we would take the kids and a load of stuff to the new house, and while we were there, we would let them run around the house and yard and have a good time. By the time we completed the move, they felt very secure and familiar in the new house and transitioned beautifully. Both kids (1.5 and 3.5 at the time) went to sleep just fine and slept through the night without incident, and never once cried or missed the old place. They are both thriving here, and I think the gradual move really helped.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  12. We have lots of milestones to look forward to in the next year and the Twigtales book would be really helpful for a couple of them! We haven’t experienced moving so we don’t have any suggestions. For some other changes we are trying Sleep Talk. I haven’t done enough work with it yet to see if it will work for us or not.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  13. nomigrrrl #

    We are moving in two weeks and we plan to make our toddler’s room the first to be all put together. I’m going to try to arrange it similarly to his current room.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  14. aremsburg #

    Thanks so much for this post, Science of Mom, and for the Twigtale story ideas. Our cross-country move with our 1-year-old is still coming up this summer, so I can’t yet share tips. Sure would be simpler if the move did not also involve 3 days of driving with pets! I always appreciate Science of Mom. It feels good just to know that other parents out there are going through very similar challenges and to learn about new ideas.

    Like

    July 17, 2013
    • I think that for our last move, I was more worried about the pets than the baby! Driving with pets is no fun. Good luck, and thanks for the kind words!

      Like

      July 17, 2013
  15. Fantastic ideas for so many stages/transitions of childhood. It makes sense. This is a total “aha” moment. Thank you!

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  16. Reblogged this on Detroit Family Fun and commented:
    I love the ideas posted here. It’s not just about moving, but ANY stage/transition in your child’s life.
    1. Welcoming a new sibling
    2. Potty Training
    3. Bed time routine
    4. Starting daycare/preschool

    Like

    July 17, 2013
  17. maggie #

    Have your seen “Melanie Mouse’s Moving Day” by Cyndy Szekeres? It talks about how hard it is to leave old friends and places, but how you will make new friends and have new benefits at the new place.
    We are also moving at the end of the summer, but I have to admit, my 4 year old is so excited that she has already started packing up her stuff just so she can be ready. I don’t know if it is just her nature, or the fact that when we first told her we used the words and tone of voice of a wonderful surprise, akin to getting ice cream for dinner.

    Like

    July 18, 2013
  18. Catherine #

    We’re having our second child in a few months. My 2-year-old *loves* babies, but I’m realizing how different her life is going to be when she’s not the only one we’re focused on. We’re planning to make sure we have regular time alone with her after the baby comes so that she doesn’t feel displaced, but I’d love any other suggestions! (And we’d love a Twigtale book!)

    Like

    July 20, 2013
  19. Our biggest transition my daughter has had to go through lately is losing my dad. We lived with him for the first year of her life to help him out (he had brain cancer) so losing him was really rough on all of us. She didn’t quite understand what exactly happened to him so I tried my best to comfort her and tell her he was in a better place. She has rebounded from it fairly well and we still make sure to talk about my dad a lot. The best way to help a child through a transition is really to talk it out. I always make sure she can share her feelings with me and I comfort her by sharing my own feelings with her. Honesty has always helped.

    Also, we’ll be moving in the next year so another big transition for her. 😦

    Shannon F.
    shannybakes(at)Hotmail(dot)com

    Like

    July 20, 2013
  20. Allison B. #

    Thanks so much for the ideas! We moved when my twins were two years old, and my lesson from that move was not to underestimate the impact that moving can have a on a young child. We will be moving again in another year, when my kids are four years old, and will be sure to take these suggestions to heart. Thanks for the chance to win!

    Like

    July 22, 2013
  21. We haven’t had any huge transitions yet, but hope at some point to move and to add a baby to the family. With the smaller transitions, it’s been a fine line between talking about it in matter-of-fact terms and not OVER talking about it. It helps us to walk her through what will happen. Thanks for these great ideas about how to handle big transitions! I’ll certainly be referring back here in the future.

    Like

    July 23, 2013
  22. steven #

    We are moving from Europe to the US before the end of the year, with a 2,5 year old and a six months old baby. Very exciting and frightening at the same time. Thanks for all the useful tips!

    Like

    July 23, 2013
  23. Thanks for the tips. We are currently living in Singapore, but we are going to move to Brazil next year or in 2 years, and I’m a bit worried about it… But I think we’ll be ok:)

    Like

    August 15, 2013

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