I moved a lot when I was younger—we moved to a different country when I was 5, 9, and again at 15. My parents did their best to ease the process of moving for my siblings and me, but honestly, it never became easier. While moving can be an opportunity for discovery, the stress of packing, living out of boxes, and starting over with new friends can be a considerable challenge for young children.
Here are a few tips to help your little ones transition more smoothly. Keep in mind that no two kids are the same, and each will handle a move in a unique way. So take your pick of strategies to try out with them as you embark on a new chapter of your lives.
- Visit ahead of time. The unknown of a new city or town is scary, but if we are a tad familiar, some of the fear dissipates. If it is feasible, take your child to the new home before you actually move. Show them their new school and take them to the local ice cream store, too. If visiting in-person is not possible, you can do a lot of exploring online. Use Google Earth to view your new home, explore the neighborhood, and discover any nearby landmarks. Make a plan to visit these once you move to create something to look forward to.
- Play up the positives. Talk up the perks of the new place. Explain to your child that even though moving can be difficult, it also can be an opportunity to learn new things, such as starting a new after-school activity or making new pals. Maybe the new place has better weather or a really cool children’s museum. Every place has something to offer.Be sure to help your child keep the positives in mind if they are having a rough time.
- Keep in touch with your old home. Let them miss their friends back home and find ways to keep in touch with them, such as through online chats, video calls through Skype or FaceTime, phone conversations or letters. A visit to their previous hometown after you have moved can help your child go through the process of accepting the move more quickly.
- Facilitate new friendships. Host playdates and make an effort to integrate the whole family into the new community. Most neighborhoods have parent social media groups that can help you become familiar with the new place. Attend a singalong or other event at the local library to meet and get to know other families of young children in the area.
- Create new traditions. Along with a new home comes the chance to create new meaningful family traditions. Something as simple as an after-dinner walk to the park or a weekly visit to a particular restaurant contributes to a sense of routine and attachment to the new place. Let your child think of a new tradition they would like to implement in your family.
- Be their shoulder to cry on. Be open and honest about your frustrations of moving, and let your child express their feelings of sadness and longing for their previous home. My mom was there for me through all the after-school tears, and all my feelings were considered valid. It was okay to feel angry and sad in the new and unfamiliar place. My parents’ acceptance made a world of difference.
Ironically, as an adult, I have also chosen to move around quite a bit with my small children. In hindsight, I now appreciate the impact that all the moves had on my identity and character. Despite the struggles I faced each time my family moved when I was little, I now crave change and the adventure of living in different places. Going through a move, with all its ups and downs, can foster a sense of camaraderie and being in the adventure together. It’s all a matter of perspective.
By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.