Moving house can be a stressful life event for a family to go through. But while parents are preoccupied with getting all the packing done or cancelling the bills, children may be worrying about quite different things; like everything they will be leaving behind, a familiar home, school, and their friends.
Sally Gimson, Campaigns Manager at the Family and Parenting Institute, explains: “Childhood is full of change and new experiences hence children are used to adapting to new things, but it is important for parents to talk to children and prepare them for the move and explain why they are doing it.
“Some families move to have a bigger house or one with a garden and others even move to be near a good school, but parents almost always want to be in an area where they can do the best for their children.”
The nature of moving house can mean that arrangements before the move are rushed and the children’s needs can easily be pushed to one side. It’s important that children are clear about what is going on and are given time to get used to the idea. Above all, try to make the move fun.
Take your children to see the new house, meet the new neighbours and explore the new surroundings. Take a photo of them outside their new home which can be made into change of address cards for their friends. If you let them pack a box of their own possessions, they can help to put it into the removal van and unpack it themselves in the new house. This will give them a sense of being part of the process.
It’s important to understand your child’s positive and negative feelings and reassure them that it’s normal to feel anxious as well as excited. Young children may be settled into a school, nursery or playgroup where they’ve made friends with their peers, as well as the teachers. They may play with the children living next door, or have relatives they see regularly. They are likely to have a ‘best friend’ and have got to know a babysitter and local shopkeepers.
Older children will have friends at school or college who are an important part of their lives, as well as teachers and other adults they look up to. They will have favourite meeting places, local clubs, cinemas and shops. And even more important, they may have to face the prospect of leaving a girlfriend or boyfriend behind.
Be sure to allow your children to say goodbye to their old home properly. Help them make a scrapbook of the old area and fill it with pictures of friends, their school, places they like and photographs of their old house. In the lead up to the big day, try to keep routines and other daily living habits as normal as possible. By treating what can be a traumatic life event sensitively, you can help them move on and settle into their new surroundings more quickly.
Some of the stress associated with moving comes from the ‘newness’ of things. So make sure that a child’s bedroom is the first to be sorted out, with as many familiar items as possible. It’s also a good idea to involve your children in plans to decorate their own room.
If distance allows, arrange for old friends to come and visit. This can help to give your child confidence by making an adventure of showing off the new house and exploring the new surroundings.
Children can find the idea of making new friends one of the most daunting factors of moving home, so try to hook into the community as quickly as possible. Ask neighbours to help to introduce your child to other children who live locally and find out about local clubs or organisations that your child can join.
By talking, and more importantly, listening to your child, any worries they may have about their new life are more likely to be solved and, before you know it, they will have settled down to enjoy the next phase in your family’s journey.