""The Big Move""

By Dr. Susan Bartell

Most parents become somewhat anxious at the thought of having to pack up their children and all their children's stuff, and move them to a new home. This is especially true when the move means not only a new home, but a new country as well.

But take heart! Children are flexible and accommodating, so as long as you prepare them well and help them adjust to the move, you should be able to keep the anxiety (yours and theirs) to a minimum.

How far in advance do I tell them about the move?

This depends upon the age of your children. If your children are young (under about eight years) you don't need to tell them about the move more than three months in advance. Longer than this could cause them to worry in anticipation of the move. If your children are older, particularly teens, you should give them as much notice as possible. They will need this time to prepare themselves, talk to their friends about it and say their good-byes. Of course if you have short notice about the move yourself, you should explain this to them, with sincere apologies for not being able to give them more notice.

If your job requires you to move regularly every couple of years, your children should be made aware of this as soon as they are able to understand. This will help them adjust to regular moves, while at the same time preparing and plan for the inevitable loss of friendships and familiarity that will occur with each move.

How do I prepare them for their new home?

Children of all ages (including adults) feel more secure, the more information and knowledge they have about the place to which they will be moving. So keeping in mind your child's age you should start to look for pictures, maps, stories and any other information that will help them learn about the place to which you will be moving.

If you're moving to non-English speaking country, you can get tapes, or talk to people who speak the language. You children may not actually learn the language, but at least they will become familiar with it's sound so it won't be so alien to them once they get there.

You should also try and find out as much as possible about the home to which you will be moving (size, number of rooms, house, apartment, city, suburb etc) and share this with your children. With young children you can draw pictures together of what it might look like. And with older children you should go into as much detail as you can provide, particularly in regard to their bedroom.

How do we leave the old home behind?

You will have to decide how much of your old home to take with you and how much you must leave behind. While this will be difficult for you, your children will only care about their own “stuff”-their toys, collections, clothes, books, music, video games and anything else that has meaning to them. You should expect them to become territorial, not wanting to give up anything. They may also become resistant to packing up their stuff for fear they'll never see it again.

If it is possible for your children to bring everything to their new home this is preferable. If not you will have to be extremely patient with them while they decide what they can and cannot live without. Don't expect this decision process to be easy or quick. It could take weeks, and cause anger and resentment towards you for not allowing them to take everything (especially teenagers.) Of course you will have your own stresses as the move approaches so you will have to be particularly mindful not to allow their negative behavior to upset you.

Despite your children's “acting up”, this is a scary time for them, requiring you to be as understanding as possible, despite their behavior.

Help your child say good-bye to friends by holding a “good-bye” gathering at your home. Have a book for everyone to sign (or draw a picture) for your child so he or she will remember that people care about him. Take lots of pictures and make an album. Encourage your child to talk to you about everything he or she will miss after you leave. If necessary help your child make a book of friends' addresses, phone numbers and emails. Respect your child's friendships. They may seem trivial to you but they are everything to your child.

What happens when we get there?

Since your children (and you) will be entering uncharted territory, you can reduce their anxiety by providing them some familiar things as soon as possible.

If many of your (and their) belongings will be shipped separately you should have easily available (in your carry-on and regular luggage) a few important items, such as books, toys, blankets, music and especially food. Food is a biggie if you're moving to a country with completely different cuisine than that to which your children are accustomed. You can easily pack a few bags of macaroni, cans of tuna, their favorite cereal, and some cookies or crackers to tide you over for the first couple of days until you can get to the local supermarket.

Remember, you may be able to make do with local fare, but it will be a lot harder for your children (most children are picky, rigid eaters). It will take them time to adjust and if you have “comfort food” available, their initial adjustment will be much smoother.

What then?

After your initial adjustment, you will need to help your children get used to school, find friends and settle in to their new home. One of the best things you can do is help them connect to one or two children their age. This will be easiest with younger children who always seem to communicate through their play, despite a language barrier. It might me a bit more difficult with older children or teens and you may have to enlist the help of other parents or school personnel if you find your child is having a difficult time connecting.

If there is no language barrier, the stress of finding friends should be greatly reduced and will probably require only minimal intervention on your part, unless your child is particularly shy. If your child feels that his or her clothes are too different, you may need to re-outfit him or her in clothes that “fit in” with the kids in school. Don't minimize the importance of fitting in; the investment in a couple of new outfits will be well worth it, if it makes your child feel more relaxed with new friends.

Encourage your child to stay in touch with old friends. Not only will your child be appreciative of your understanding that the transition is difficult he or she will also feel less alone until new friends are made. Email, fax and telephone can all be ways for older children to remain in contact with important friends.

Remember, moving can be a wonderful growing experience for the whole family if you are able to address your children's needs and worries.

(If you'd like to learn more, we also address some of these issues from a lay parent's perspective on our pages about how a sponsor can ease the transition when moving abroad, and on our pages dealing with culture shock.)

Dr. Susan Bartell is a licensed psychologist, specializing in helping young children and their parents. She received her Masters and Doctorate Degrees from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in N.Y. Dr. Bartell has over 12 years experience working with young children and their parents in preschool, elementary school, clinic and hospital settings.

Currently, Dr. Bartell maintains a private practice, counseling children and parents in many areas such as parent-child relationships, stepfamily relationships, behavior management, learning disabilities and social development. Dr. Bartell also conducts workshops on a variety of different topics including preparing children for a new baby, discussing death with children, and talking to young children about drugs.

She also runs an excellent web site for parents at www.havinganotherbaby.com.

User Feedback

We’ve recently moved from the UK and are living in the Netherlands. Our children(8 and 5) attend a local school and are finding the transition difficult. I found your article very useful and wondered if you had any advice as to how to help them cope with the sense of loss. Oue eight year old is angry that she cannot return to her school which she loved and our five year old is having a tantrum every morning in the classroom; I have to leave him screaming! We really enjoy being a family and I am keen to help them as much as I can. Any ideas? Thank you!

Helen Vince

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