Dr. Brent Potter
According to University Hospitals (2015) moving is number three in life’s most stressful events, the first two being divorce (number two) and the death of a loved one (number one). I have some personal experience with this too, so it’s not just a philosophical / educational matter.Last year, I moved with my wife and our toddler from Southeast Asia to the United States, where we presently reside. Certainly, one’s move does not need to be this dramatic for it to be stressful. Anyone who has moved knows that it can be a deeply exhausting experience. Having a child in tow can add to the stress and, of course, the most important thing is to keep the child’s wellbeing in mind.
If you’re relocating to an entirely new area with kids, you’re aware that it’s going to be a huge adjustment for them. You might be worried about how it will affect them, and wonder what you can do to make it easier for them.
According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, moving is one of the most stressful life events. It creates major upheaval in your routines and living conditions. And it’s no less stressful for kids—in particular, frequent moves can have detrimental long-term impacts on kids.
Dr. Nancy Darling says, a developmental researcher, says:
“…(F)requent moves are tough on kids and disrupt important friendships. These effects are most problematic for kids who are introverted and those whose personalities tend toward anxiety and inflexibility. Specifically, adults who moved frequently as kids have fewer high-quality relationships and tend to score lower on well-being and life satisfaction.”
So, moving with kids is hard for everyone involved. Whether you’re moving across town or across the country, it becomes more complex and fraught when you’re a parent.
The practicalities of the move are more difficult when you have toddlers or very young children, but studies show that relocation has the most intense emotional impact on adolescents and teenagers (Psychology Today).
So that’s the bad news. But, you should know that there are ways of reducing stress in children when you move and relocate. By being aware of the stress they’re under, you can take intentional steps to improve the outcome for them.
Tips for Reducing Stress in Children During a Move
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Kids are resilient,” but that doesn’t mean we can shrug off what stress does to them. If you’re facing a relocation with kids, here are some tips to ensure that everyone experiences the minimal level of stress along the way.
Depending on whether your kids are younger or older, you can adjust these tips in a way that applies to your situation. This list can help you make a checklist of things to remember when you’re dealing with stress and moving into a new house.
Take Care of Yourself
Yes, it’s the same “put your oxygen mask on first” principle that you’ve probably heard applied to parenting before. You have to intentionally care for your health and well-being so you can offer the best care possible to your kids.
Megan’s Moving suggests maintaining a peaceful morning routine throughout the moving progress.
Right after you wake up, spend thirty minutes in quiet. If you can, avoid screens and wake up before your kids, but even if that’s not possible, plan ahead for that quiet time. It can be tempting to try to squeeze productivity into every spare moment, but that’s only going to heighten your stress.
Try to eat healthy throughout your move. Take a few minutes to plan ahead at the beginning of the week. You can still make simple meals; just ensure they include fruits and vegetables and limit high-fat, high-sodium meals that won’t make you or your kids feel good afterward.
Incorporate time for movement and nature, even just a 15-minute walk or run outside, or five minutes of stretching before bed.
Write a to-do list every day, and make it realistic. Everything will get done if you pace yourself.
Preparing Your Kids for the Move
As you can see so far, being proactive and intentional is the best preparation for coping with stress while moving into a new house. Being proactive doesn’t mean you have to be perfect! It just means doing your best to foresee the biggest sources of stress, and doing what you can to alleviate them ahead of time.
So, how do you alleviate moving stress for your kids?
1. Talk to them about what to expect.
It can be easy to overlook this part of the equation. Picture yourself in a healthcare setting when you’re about to undergo an unfamiliar procedure. When the healthcare provider lets you know exactly what steps they’re going to undertake ahead of time, don’t you feel relieved and less anxious?
It’s no different for kids when it comes to dealing with stress about an upcoming change. They may not know how to communicate that they’re feeling anxious. Let them know in simple language exactly what’s going to happen. Your proactive communication will help them feel more prepared.
Listen if/when they want to talk about it. Try to avoid having these conversations right before bed if you have a particularly anxious child who struggles with insomnia.
2. Help them say goodbye in a positive way.
Acknowledge their sadness about leaving family, friends, or familiar places, but help them cope with change positively.
Let them say goodbye, and emphasize the ways they will be able to connect with this person or place in the future:
- If you’re relocating and it’s possible for your family, plan another visit.
- Make sure to connect with friends or loved ones through social media ahead of time.
- If possible, plan to have your kids exchange letters with their friends—getting pen pal mail can be an exciting novelty, especially for elementary-aged kids.
Also, help kids look ahead to their new location:
- Check out local surroundings on Google Earth.
- Plan an outing to a museum or local attraction for after you move.
- Look at the floor plan of your new home and let your kids brainstorm how to set up each room.
3. Give them choices whenever possible.The older your kids are, the more you can involve them in both the decision to move and the smaller choices along the way. They may not have a say in the relocation itself, but if you can, let them get involved in choosing a new home, or at least their new room. They will enjoy that sense of ownership and feeling like they have a say in decisions.
If your kids are younger, offer them small choices every step of the way. Let them choose a stuffed animal to take with them on their drive to the new house. Let them pick out a new comforter for their bed, or decide what meal they want to have for dinner on the first day.
Offering your kids a sense of ownership, even in small ways, can ease their anxiety about such a big transition.
Make the Adjustment Easy on Your Kids
When you’re decluttering and packing in preparation for the move, start in the kids’ room(s). The more clutter-free and organized their space is, the easier the moving transition will be for them. Rotate out clothes or toys (if needed) as the first step in packing. It’ll be easier for a child to let go of unused items if there’s still time left before moving day.
Make kids’ rooms the last to pack and the first to unpack. Keeping a sense of order will preserve a familiar space for kids and can help them sleep better in new surroundings.
Reduce Stress in Children on Moving Day
Moving day itself is always a huge stress trigger, especially if you don’t have the financial resources to hire movers who can pack for you, or if you live a busy lifestyle and your move isn’t as organized as you would like.
Once the day arrives, it’s easy to let small triggers turn into conflicts or frustrations, so try to alleviate this possibility as much as possible. Maybe you can give your kids a small gift to celebrate the day. You can also pack a backpack or tote for each child with their most familiar comfort items—snacks, a stuffed animal, a book or two, a device they can use for a long drive, etc.
If you have young children and this option is available to you, you may want to consider having them stay with family or another caregiver on moving day. Having toddlers underfoot during this process can be overwhelming for everyone. If that’s not a possibility, just plan on getting the basics done.
Keep everyone’s meals and sleeping routines consistent. Pack plenty of snacks, and plan where you’re going to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then try to make sure the kids (and you!) get to bed at your usual time, so you can all start the next day well-rested.
Adjusting to Your New Location
Once you’ve arrived in your new home, you’ll be focused on unpacking and getting set up so that your daily routine can run as smoothly as possible.
Still, try to designate a specific time for unpacking each day, and outside of that, don’t let it take over normal family routines.
Try to return to your normal routine and activities as much as possible. Explore your new area, especially outside in nature, whenever you can.
Get involved in church and other activities so you can get out of the house and meet new people.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with busyness but ensure you all have a chance to have a minimal, structured routine to give you a sense of purpose and foster belonging in your new home.
After you unpack the kids’ room(s), focus on keeping one other area of the house clean and clutter-free as you unpack the rest. It could be the kitchen, living room, or den, but designate a common-space refuge where everyone can start to feel at home.
Moving can be stressful for parents and kids but prioritizing emotional and physical health during the transition can alleviate a great deal of stress in children and adults. If your child is having difficulty with anxiety or adjusting to her new location, don’t hesitate to contact a Christian counselor for stress, anxiety, or parenting help.
“Dog in a Box”, Courtesy of Erda Estremera, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “You Can’t See Me”, Courtesy of Caleb Woods, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Longing”, Courtesy of Joel Overbeck, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Unpacking”, Courtesy of HiveBoxx, Unsplash.com, CC0 License