Moving is stressful. Over the last 20 years I have moved over 15 times: across cities, across the USA, and across oceans. Along with the excitement that accompanied each move, came a unique set of challenges too. Whether it was carrying my bed up to a 4th floor walk-up, or moving into a new home to discover there was a rat living in the ceiling, there was always something. There always is something. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at moving. I am a better packer, I make lots of lists, and I heavily research the place we are moving to. Now I have a new challenge – moving with kids.
"Now I have a new challenge – moving with kids."
We have to move every two to three years with my husband’s job. Sometimes we live overseas. Sometimes we live in the USA. There are so many benefits that come along with this life style: seeing the world, experiencing other cultures, learning new languages. It’s fun and exciting and always changing.
There are challenges, too. Saying goodbye to your friends every two years is hard. Arriving in a new country where you don’t know the language is hard. Waiting for three months for your stuff to arrive is hard. These aspects of moving are always difficult for me, but now that I have children, I can’t help but worry that somehow I am traumatizing my children by subjecting them to this lifestyle.
The good news is that as long as we continue to be loving, nurturing parents who provide our children with a safe home, they will most likely be fine. They might have some quirks, but hey, who doesn’t? People are resilient and my children teach me this over and over again.
But moving is still stressful! So allow me to share with you my favorite tips for helping kids move.
Talk about feelings. Emotions can be very confusing. Many kids don’t have the vocabulary to describe how they are feeling. Give them the language they need to describe anger, sadness, fear, joy and excitement. Help them to identify how those feelings manifest in their bodies. Let them know it’s ok to be sad and cry.
Remember to breathe! Once your kids can identify when they feel stressed you can teach them stress management techniques. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two tools you can provide to children of all ages. You can find examples here.
Let them pack. Kids have very little control during a move. Let them have some control by picking the toys and comfort items they want in their suitcase that will help calm them feel better during the move.
Say goodbye. Make a point of saying goodbye to all the people and places that have special meaning to your child. Take pictures of their friends, their favorite park, their school, etc. It will help later when they are missing their old home.
Return to normalcy. As soon as possible get your child back into their structure and routine. Set up their bedroom first. If possible have their bedding there when you arrive or let them pick out new bedding.
Have a play date. I often hear from kids that they are scared that they are going to have to sit by themselves or will get lost on the 1st day of school. Having some friendly faces on the first day can be helpful. Set up play dates or arrange a buddy at your child’s new school. If you don’t know anyone yet, talk to the school and see if they can help.
Allow your child to grieve. It is ok for your child to be sad after a major change like this. Make memory books, talk about your old home, create opportunities for them to speak with their old friends. They may have really good days and they may have really bad days. That is ok. Be empathic. It might take some time but it will get better.
For further information about moving with kids and great links to additional resources check out my website TCK.Services.
Marjie de Veer, LICSW is a therapist and the founder of TCK Services. What is a TCK? They are Third Culture Kids, meaning they are kids who live, or have lived, outside their parents’ cultures. Marjie loves working with them to help them to navigate their international moves and cope with grief and loss. Marjie lives in Bogota, Colombia with her husband, 2 TCKs, and her 2 cats who don’t like moving one bit.