January is a time when many parents are thinking about big changes they plan on making in 2018, and if a new home is on your agenda then you’re probably bracing yourself for the stress of sorting contracts and organising removal vans.
As you pack the toys into boxes, you may be looking at your kids with a little bit of envy - oh how you wish you had someone to do all your box packing for you - but make no mistake, they may be as stressed about the process as you are.
A change of scene is obviously a huge upheaval for everyone - especially if it has come because of a breakdown or change in family circumstances - and many children will find moving house unsettling and full of uncertainty.
Cathy Ranson, editor of ChannelMum says: “Moving home is among the most stressful things an adult can do, and maybe even more so for a child.”
Obviously this is not a reason to stay put, especially when a move might mean more space, a garden, better schools, or a hundred other factors that improve your child’s wellbeing long term.
So how do you overcome the issues that might arise in the short term when moving house, to make this a positive experience for your children?
What issues might arise?
Worrying About Loss
Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children, says: “Children may focus on what they are losing [friends, schools, teachers, their bedroom], rather than what they are gaining, when moving to a new house.”
“They may also feel excluded, so do what you can to get your child involved in the move,” says Gummer. “Ask if there is anything they’d like in the new house, and take them to visit it before moving in (they may love it and then a lot of possible anxiety about ‘what if I hate the new house?’ will be avoided).”
Not Telling You How They Feel
Gummer cautions that even if your children seem excited on the surface, underneath they may have worries.
“Remember all children will react differently to an imminent house move,” she advises.
Small Worries Can Grow
Ranson adds: “Small things can become big things. Maybe they’re worried about leaving friends, or worried about where they’re going to sleep, and this can spiral.”
So how can you make moving house less stressful for kids?
Once you’ve established what the problems are, you can move on to trying to solve them.
1. Discuss It, No Matter Their Age
You may think that they’re oblivious to a lot of the stress around them, but children are very astute. Not talking about the move won’t protect them, it may actually serve to stoke their fears.
Ranson says: “Discuss the move with your child no matter what their age, even the youngest of children can understand if you draw pictures for them to colour or act out the move day with Lego or toy trucks.”
2. Recognise Your Own Stresses
Before you start telling your children not to be stressed, reflect on how your behaviour might have changed and whether they are picking up on your fears.
“Remember children are always listening and will pick up on your anxieties so be mindful of conversations they may overhear,” advises Ranson. “Let them hear the things you’re excited about, not what you’re worried about.”
3. Involve Your Child
The easiest way to make sure kids don’t feel left behind is to get them involved (even if it does feel like they’re slowing the process down).
“The key is to keep children involved so they know what is happening,” explains Ranson. “Get older children involved in the move by helping to make lists and marking boxes on the outside with clear details of the contents. This will help them to feel a part of the process.”
4. Make It Fun
Of course house admin isn’t exactly an exciting prospect for a young child, so try to make it fun and relevant to their interests.
“Give them a cardboard box of their own that they can decorate and personalise well ahead of move day,” Ranson suggests.
“They can then pack this themselves the day before with their precious items that they don’t want to be separated from. Special teddies, favourite toys, their best games and books etc. This should stay with them and they can unpack it straight away.”
5. Keep Bed Linen The Same
It is often the small details (that adults overlook) that can upset children who are used to certain ways of life or habits.
Ranson cautions: “Don’t change bedlinen before the move day or be tempted to replace beds, duvets or pillows. Let them keep their familiar items that smell like ‘home’ for the best chance of uninterrupted sleep.
“If your child sleeps with a toy always always keep this safe and with you and your child - don’t let it get packed away with everything else.”
6. Arrange For Family Visits
Once you have moved in it is important to get the new home feeling as safe and secure as quickly as possible. Having familiar faces visiting will begin to make it feel like home.
“Arrange for family members and friends to visit soon, so your child sees familiar faces early on,” Ranson advises. “If it’s too far to travel for visits in person, then arrange video calls.”
7. Make Sure They Stay In Touch With Friends
One of the biggest fears your child may have is that they will completely ‘lose’ their old life and everything in it, so reassure them that they will be staying in touch with current friends and schoolmates.
Gummer says: “Organise playdates for old friends to visit, and exchange email addresses so they don’t feel like they are closing the door on their old life.”
8. And Help Them Make New Ones
As well as worrying that they’ll lose touch with old people, the concept of making new friends in a new place is likely to be daunting to your child, so be there to support them.
“Help your child make new friends by organising play dates with their new peers,” advises Gummer.
“Joining local clubs can also be a great way for them to meet potential friends will similar interests.”