Preparing Your Kids for the Move
Tips for Improving the Leaving Process
By Leah Moorefield Evans
Published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 20 | Sept/Oct 2015
My four-year-old wailed, “I didn’t say goodbye to my playground” as we drove toward the airport. She melted into sobs and clung to me as I struggled to hold on despite the wild driving of the cabdriver. We were transitioning to a new country, and we had about an hour to make our flight. And, I knew right then that I had messed up.
I had been so concerned about packing up our belongings, organizing our suitcases, and saying goodbye to my friends that I hadn’t really thought about the goodbye process for my children. As I held my sobbing, quaking child I promised myself that next time, yes, next time I would do it right. So, over the next three years I consulted as many families experienced in moving as I could. Then, I worked out a plan to improve our leave-taking.
It is hard for children to process what it means to move to a new home. Permanence and forever are difficult concepts to really grasp. My friend Lucy always starts discussing a move six months in advance, and makes a calendar three months in advance so that her children would hear about and learn about the major events that include packing, cleaning, saying goodbye, final parties, last day of school, and moving dates. I incorporated this into my move and found that it led to many discussions but helped eliminate some of the anxiety about moving.
Secondly, a therapist friend in Kyiv told me to make a ceremony of saying goodbye so that children have closure. We followed her advice and took our last Sunday before leaving as a ‘family goodbye day’. Each child selected three places and three people that they loved. They each painted a small rock that we brought from our home in the U.S. and left in a secret spot at each of their favorite locations. For the people, each child made a picture frame and put in a picture of themselves with their favorite person. Then, we hand-delivered them for final hugs and goodbyes.
We also made sure to take pictures of each of our favorite spots and favorite people and then we worked together to make a photo album with long descriptions. The photo album was our keepsake and we still look at it on a regular basis.
Finally, as we physically left the city we said goodbye to everything on our way out. “Goodbye bedroom, goodbye apartment, goodbye street, goodbye park, goodbye airport.” It was repetitive, but it certainly got the point across!
Making the Move Memorable
Organizing, packing and cleaning are hard for me. I find myself concentrating on my to-do list and not on my kids. I asked lots of moms about advice and they gave me great ideas for helping my kids to understand that our stuff was going to the next house, and to involve them in the whole process.
First, involve your children in the actual move. Ask them to weed out clothes and toys they have outgrown, help them to separate items for packing, and then let them label and decorate the boxes for their rooms.
For fun, use the packing materials for games of hide and seek, or the paper and boxes for basketball. Try to find fun and interesting ways to embrace the changes in your house. If you have wood floors, you can put on socks and go ‘ice-skating’. Perhaps you can have a kickball game in an empty room. Change can be hard, but it is worth trying to find some positive in the chaos!
Finally, make a list of each box and what is in it. This way, kids can keep a record of what they have and where it is going. If they express anxiety or concern, pull out the list and talk about what is on it and what the process is going to be. It is something tangible that they can hold when thinking about what is missing.
Finding Favorites in Your New Home
Anne in Ecuador helped me realize that children feel more comfortable with a move if they know where they are going next. Adults do their homework and research their new home, but it is best to also let children into the fun. Don’t just look up schools; also try to search for awesome ice cream parlors, fun ice-skating rinks, or best things for a fourth grader to do in your new town. Make a list of activities your family does for fun, and then look for equivalent opportunities in your new town. Share the results of your search with your children.
We also found it helpful to find pen-pals for our older children. Using social media or contacting the schools can help you find a friend that can answer kid-specific questions and then help your child feel comfortable with the move.
While our second move was not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, I felt that our children were better prepared. Certainly, moving is hard for many of us. Having a plan, even an imperfect plan, provides a structure for understanding and enduring the process. Saying a proper goodbye, embracing the chaos of the move, and building knowledge and excitement about your new home can ease the transition for children as well as adults.
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[Image: ©Warren Goldswain, under license from Shutterstock]