Navigating Turbulent Waters When Your Child’s Safe Place Becomes Shaken.
Moving with kids can be stressful for parents. It can also be stressful for kids. Home should be a safe place for children. So should family. But when the place a child calls home changes, insecurities and adjustments are prevalent.
When the waters are smooth, it’s easy to plan a move. Oftentimes, though, we hit choppy areas as we navigate through the maze of moving with kids in tow.
Children feel safe when their “normal” remains the same. When “normal” moves or changes, children can be left feeling insecure and unsafe.
Whether you’re moving across the street, across a state, or cross-country, children need to feel safe. As parents, how we navigate those waters can make a large difference in whether or not our children feel safe and secure.
Making moving with kids easier
I haven’t moved that often (only five times since we had kids) and I recognize there are moms out there who could write an entire book about moving. I won’t bother with the book because I’m not a pro. I’m just a mom who has been there. I’d like to share a few things that helped make our moves easier on our kids. In the end, it made life better for us.
(1)Know your child. Know what is important to him/her for security. Is it a blanket, a toy, a book, a night light, or something else? Make sure that item is packed last (and possibly hand carried by the child), so that it will be unpacked first. When everything else is in disarray, a child needs to be able to hang onto something that speaks of safety and security. If the boat seems rocky, he’ll feel more secure if he can grab a life jacket and hang on. When his parents or older siblings are busy with unpacking, he’ll have that treasure to hang onto. It’s a way for him to bring “home” with him. This is one of the best ways to make moving with kids easier on your kiddos.
(2)Let your child help. Together, pack a bag with the things you will need for your first night in the new house. This can be done a week or two ahead. Bed covers, pillows, sheets, PJs and clean clothes for the next day are essentials. Don’t forget toilet articles and a night light. When a child snuggles down into sheets that smell like the-other-house-home, he will sleep better. [Incidentally, when we traveled when our kids were small, I used to strip the sheet off the crib and take it with me. You can be sure that when my baby woke up in the middle of the night in a strange place, it still smelled like home. I didn’t research any studies on this, but I know my kids slept well in strange places, and I think that’s why.] When you’re traveling unchartered waters, it’s better to use a boat with which you’re familiar than trying out a new one. Newness can be exciting, but it’s safer and better to stick with what is familiar for this launch.
(3)Make moving with kids an adventure. If you’re not excited about the move, you can be sure your children will pick up on those vibes. Remember that, and get excited! Your emotions will catch up if you act like you really are excited. Pick up some fun things – new toys, bubbles, books, games, etc. — and show them to your kids before you move. Let them help you pack them in a special container that they get to open when they arrive at their new house! This helps build excitement and anticipation. They might not be crazy about moving, but they’ll look forward to opening this tub once they arrive. Knowing that rapids are up ahead can be exciting if the tour guide is prepared and lets you know it’s going to be a lot of fun. So be your children’s tour guide. Announce that rapids are coming up and that it’s going to be a blast. Then make it just that.
(4)Be proactive. Think ahead. What will be the greatest difficulty in this move? Is it a child who is so sentimental that any change will throw him off the rocker? Is it the child who seems so excited now that you least expect her to come apart at the seams the first night in her new home? What can you do to help prepare them – and you – so that the first days in your new home won’t be fragmented with discord and unhappiness? Sometimes a child can be excited before the move, but when they get there, they come unglued. Don’t be shocked and don’t make them feel stupid because “I thought you were excited about moving here!” If you are prepared for hidden boulders and twisting turns in the waters, you will be better able to navigate around each bend. Think and plan ahead.
(5)Do not micromanage responses. Allow each child to respond in his own way to this upheaval in his life. If a child is teary, don’t become impatient, or you’ll be teaching him to stuff his emotions. If a child is defiant, don’t allow him to make life miserable for everyone else. Taking the time to explore what’s going on inside their hearts and heads will help plug any holes that could allow “ water damage” from the storm of relocating. Just because moving was easy for you as a child or is easier for an older sibling doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone. Remember that. It’s so much easier – and better -to be pro-active than re-active. Make sure your boat is water-tight so that any waves, no matter how high, will not be able to capsize your boat.
(6) Let it be his/her room. Allowing your child to be “in control” of his new room will help him feel that you think what he thinks is important. Let your child help decide how he arranges the furniture in his bedroom. It might not be the way you want it, but it will help him feel like he’s in control of something in this strange environment. Guaranteed, if you let him decide, you’ll be able to “help him change his mind” in the weeks ahead and get the room arranged in a way that works better for everyone. You might also learn that his way is just as good as yours in the first place.
Your job in moving with kids
(7) Be the parent while the move takes place. You must lead the way which means you focus on your kids and not just your task of things to get done. It doesn’t mean a child sets the tone. It does mean you’re the one in charge and not your kids. To do that, you must stay in tune and not think once you arrive at your new place that the worst is over. Just know that.
When you’re not prepared, you can be blind-sided should a catastrophe occur. Being a parent isn’t just about getting tasks completed and keeping the kids clothed and fed. Parenting well also means we help our children grow emotionally and handle change well when life happens. It’s more important that you’re in tune with your kids during a move than getting everything unpacked. Easier said than done, I know. Navigating through a moving maze will be less bumpy if you are prepared for turbulent as well as smooth waters.
(8) Celebrate! Plan a special night or treat once all the unpacking is done. Let your kids know that there’s going to be a special family night soon. Be sure to follow through, and don’t make them wait too long. Get out and visit your neighbors, helping both you and your children make new friends.
Even the best preparation doesn’t guarantee there won’t be any upheavals or problems when you’re moving with kids. Yet, having a plan lets you navigate more easily. It will also help you be more aware of the emotions you and your children are facing as you unpack. In the end, preparation will help you make your new house a home.