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How to Prepare Children for a Move

Moving homes is disruptive. “Along with death and divorce, moving counts among life’s biggest stressors, says Terri Simick, spokesperson for the American Psychological Association. Unfortunately, these struggles often dovetail. I recently faced the double whammy of going through divorce and having to move with two young children.

“Kids pick up on stress, so the attitude you project about moving will affect your children’s feelings,” child psychologist Kate Gorman advised me. Never mind that we were moving from Manhattan into my mother’s basement. I had to look on the bright side. “You’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom,” I told my five-year-old son Sawyer. “You’ll dream where I used to dream.”

Dr. Gorman suggested putting Sawyer in charge of a cardboard box so he could pack some toys. He broke out his markers, labeled the box “Legos,” then flew Star Wars ships inside it. It gave him a sense of control; he knew where to find his prized creations.

I scheduled play dates with my son’s friends to make sure he could say goodbye. I thought he’d cry, but instead he waved, “I’ll Skype you.” I cried, but not until later, after he went to sleep.

Right before the move, I worried that my 20-months-old baby girl might experience anxiety from the change in her surroundings. “Young children feel secure as long as you maintain their routine,” my pediatrician said. I kept my daughter’s stuffed piggy with her when the movers came. Then I made up her crib at grandma’s house with the same soft animals she slept with in New York.

I chose a chapter book to read to my son during the week of the move. We made it through one tale from Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon in our old apartment, which meant we had two more to go at grandma’s house. Continuing the same book in the new place helped provide continuity.

I did my best not to micromanage the process of unpacking. I asked Sawyer’s opinion about where his things should go. He turned moving into an opportunity to rearrange his toys to make all of them accessible. And it was surprisingly effective. He rediscovered goodies he’d forgotten about, like the bin of rubber sea creatures we unearthed from the depths of his former closet.

Dr. Gorman warned that children go through an adjustment period. Sawyer immediately established what he called a base in the corner of his new room. He wouldn’t let me dismantle his hodgepodge project, a kind of E.T. phones home contraption, the tinker toys arranged like some radio signaler. “It’s a good coping skill,” Dr. Gorman assured me. “He’s creating a safe place.” That’s what I want my kids to feel — the comfort of home.

Pari Chang writes about child safety for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen. Pari’s articles have been published in Glamour, Redbook, and many other major magazines and news outlets.

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