If you’ve ever contemplated a cross-country move or are facing a short-distance move with your kids, you somehow know it’s not going to be as easy as loading them up into the car and just going. Recently, I was thinking about our many moves (I think about 12? 2 international, 1 cross-country but I’ve lost count). I noticed how much better the process has gotten with these last couple of moves. I think that moving with your kids is a topic worth pondering, since kids are sensitive, taking security in the daily routine and their friends down the street, and all those other givens. So, what to do when it’s go-time and how to incorporate them into the process in a meaningful way?
Here are my top ten tips for moving with kids.
1. Talk often and early. If a move is even a remote possibility in your near future, talk about it with your kids. It doesn’t matter if it never happens. But if it does, you won’t regret opening things up for discussion early. This gives kids a chance to process the idea of it and to think of questions for you. Make the discussion an ongoing one though. And if they’re asking things you don’t know the answer to, then say, “I don’t know.” Tell them you’ll get back to them. But make sure that you do revisit it with them. Be clear about explaining *why* you believe this is the way your family should go and *how* it will benefit you as a family.
2. Pray ahead. Your kids’ number one concern will probably be leaving their friends. Reassure them that there are good people everywhere. I know this is to be true from our own moves. Pray ahead for new friends. Encourage them with God’s words that He will go before you and with you.
3. Don’t involve your kids in the house search unless you absolutely have to. Kids have a tendency to latch onto things emotionally. My kids fell in love with a house solely because it had a playset in the backyard. The house itself and the location weren’t right for us. Kids don’t care about that. All they remember is the awesome playset. Or maybe you bid on a house and it falls through. Disappointment is a part of life and that is something they should learn. But not right now. Not in the middle of this huge upheaval in their little lives. Whatever house/apartment you end up choosing, they will love it. Not involving them in the house search isn’t mean, it’s one less emotional issue for them to deal with. One other thing. When we look at houses, regardless of whether we’re renting or buying, it’s usually a pretty intense process, with long days of driving around and being very decisive, very quickly. That’s physically tough on kids, especially little ones. So if you do have to bring them along, bring games, a DVD, the iPad or another distraction, and snacks!
4. Let them pack a bag of precious things. Regardless of whether you’re traveling by plane or car, you’ll have most of their stuff in boxes. With our latest move, we stayed in temporary housing for a month. The kids had a few of their *special* things with them, which made all the difference in making them feel at home, when they weren’t. It also had the advantage of proving kids can get along just fine without heaps of toys. They will use their imagination more.
5. Take time for fun. Like going out for frozen custard. While most of our time is spent on unpacking, we’ve learned to take time to get oriented to the new town. Take a break from unpacking and moving stuff, and head to the aquarium, the library, a museum, the zoo, the botanical gardens or a park. This has the triple advantage of helping you navigate your new place as well as spending time together as a family, and staying busy, which helps them not focus on feeling sad. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. The library’s still free, so are playgrounds and the farmer’s market. Some places have reduced ticket prices on certain days/hours. Look for coupons online too.
6. Learn as much about the new place as possible ahead of time, to build anticipation. If the new place has mountains and hiking is popular, talk about checking that out. We planned on visiting an outdoors store with lots of kids’ games and fun displays. Even though we didn’t go the first day we moved, they were excited about it and looked forward to it during the first few days!
7. Find a church online to visit before you arrive. Go with your instincts on this. Because this is about the easiest way to feel welcomed, and to have your kids be with other kids right away, in a good environment.
8. Be prepared for some sleepless nights. For some kids, nights are a time for reflection and the quiet and the still is when sadness can well up. I’ve found that making allowances in the sleep department provides stability and eases the transition. For example, when we stayed in the temporary housing, two of my kids who don’t usually share a room, shared a room. Not only did they really enjoy this but I believe it reminded them that they were in this new place together, and that things were going to be okay. Leave their door open if it helps them sleep. Remember everything is new to them, including nighttime sounds. If you’re worried about getting too off course, don’t be. It’s hard to maintain any order when you move anyway and things will correct themselves when you get more settled.
9. Tell them God determined where you should live and when. This gives me a lot less credibility with my kids, which is actually a good thing, and it helps them believe in something much bigger. It reminds them that God cares about the tiny details of their lives, like where they’ll live and who their next door neighbors will be.
Your attitude toward the move will largely influence your kids. Are you excited? Or are you daunted and complaining constantly about everything on your to-do list? Are you fully committed to this move and do you believe it’s where you’re supposed to go?
10. Involve them in meaningful ways. Have them help unpack a box or two. Have them help decide how to arrange their bedroom. You’d be surprised how good they’ll feel about helping put the new space together. With our second last move, my daughter (who was 7 at the time) and I unpacked the entire kitchen together. Stuff will maybe get broken. But their sense of worth and purpose is much more important.