How to Handle Children When Moving Home?
Moving house is always stressful. If you have children, you may find yourself dealing with apparently wild and unreasoning outbursts for reasons which may seem mystifying or trivial to you. An event which is already taxing can quickly become a fraught and unhappy time for all concerned.
What Are Your Children Thinking?
Children do not view the world in the same way as adults and so the underlying causes of their behaviour may not be immediately apparent. Fortunately, with a little imagination and forethought, there is much you can do to anticipate and alleviate your children’s fears. You may even be able to present the house move to them as an exciting adventure or, at the very least, turn it into something which does not fill them with dread and foreboding.
No two children are the same, of course. One child may be completely unconcerned by something which reduces his or her sibling to floods of tears He may become uncooperative, sulk or throw a major tantrum over the smallest upset yet take in his stride a near catastrophe which makes you, his parent, frantic with despair. Children can be funny like that ….
So what can you do to anticipate the reaction of your children to your forthcoming move? Read on!
You first need to appreciate that what your children are likely to fret about will differ considerably depending on their age. This may seem obvious but the reasons behind their worries may be less so.
It is important to keep in mind that, whatever the ages of your children, it is highly unlikely that they had a real say in the decision to move at all. For instance, you may be moving to change job or because you have been posted to a new location. As an adult, you are thinking of career prospects or more money to spend on your family. All a child sees is a life suddenly spiralling out of control – and that can be frightening.
For all children, it can be difficult to imagine a place and a life that isn’t rooted in the here and now. As adults with life experiences behind us, we sometimes forget just how big and frightening the world can appear to even the most outwardly confident child. For them, a house move – especially one to somewhere far away – can almost literally feel like stepping off the edge of the world. We should take our children’s concerns seriously. We should think back and remember how terrifying it feels not to be in control.
Up to Six Years Old
If your children are of pre-school or infant school age – up to about six years old, say – their biggest concerns are likely to centre around issues of separation. They worry that they may be left behind or that they may become separated from Mummy and Daddy somewhere along the way.
Children over the age of six tend to be scared by the whole idea of change. They have their routines and their friends; they have their school and whatever after school clubs and groups they may attend. They feel safe because they know where they are and who they are. Now, you are asking them to give all that up.
With teenagers, there are additional complications. Whereas younger children tend to make new friends in a very direct way (“Can I play with you?”), teenagers straddle that horribly awkward gap between the simplicity of childhood and the complexities and uncertainties of adulthood. Their minds and bodies are also changing in ways with which they are not fully comfortable and, however they may appear on the outside, inside they are a mess of poorly understood emotions, desires and fears. Most teenagers are not nearly as confident on the inside as they might seem on the surface.
Worse still, teenagers don’t know how to share these feelings properly with their parents. That means they don’t know how to share these feelings with you. As a result, they may often express their feelings in seemingly random and inexplicable acts of rudeness and other unpleasant behaviour. Your teenage children may sulk, shout or swear at you; they may slam doors, “accidentally” break things which are precious to you and otherwise sabotage the move in subtle and not so subtle ways. The natural response to this sort of behaviour is for Mum and Dad to get angry in their turn and so a bad situation is made worse.
We sincerely hope your children have never had to deal with loss before but you need to remember that they will also be grieving for the friends they are about to lose.
Your children are frightened that they will be friendless and alone in the new place. The older ones especially are convinced that they are not pretty enough, clever enough, sporty enough or trendy enough ever to make new friends after you have moved.
We have deliberately taken our time to look at this frightening, unknown world as your children might see it. We have also, we know, painted a very dark picture of how your children might react to your forthcoming move. In all likelihood, your children will cope with the change remarkably well – but let’s continue to assume the worst. The question now is, “How can I help my children?”
Helping Your Children With The Move
The good news is that there are many things you can do to make your forthcoming move as easy as possible for your children.
First To Know
The first thing you should do is involve your family as soon as a move looks likely. Explain to your children that you might be moving and explain to them the reasons why.
Make sure your children are the first to know about the pending move and tell them that you have told them before anyone else. Give them some idea of when the move might take place and when the key milestones are likely to happen. It might be a good idea to invest in a colourful House Moving calendar to put up on the kitchen wall so you can write in when various things are going to happen. Important milestones might, for example, be the date you leave your current job; the day you move into temporary accommodation and, of course, the day of the actual move.
Plenty Of Notice
Give your children as much notice of the move as possible. This gives them valuable time to get used to the idea that a major change is afoot. The more familiar they are with the idea, they more they will feel that this is “their” move which they are doing together as a family. Always remember that fear or change and a feeling that life is spinning out of control are the two main emotions you need to whittle down to size for your children.
On Home Territory
You may be tempted to take your children out to dinner before broaching the subject of moving house. Don’t. The initial discussion should take place on home territory so that your children are free to express themselves even if they are reeling from shock. Once you have had your family meeting, however, it is a good idea to take everyone out for dinner if you can so that the day ends on a good note.
Permission To Be Badly Behaved
Your children may react very emotionally when they first hear your news. If they do, let them. They are in shock. They will not be listening to you properly and they won’t be taking in very much if they try. Answer any questions they have as simply and concisely as you can. Reassure them that you understand they might be in shock so they can ask the same questions again later when they have recovered from the initial fright.
Always remember that you are telling them something frightening.
Listen – Don’t Just Pause In The Gaps!
In many of our daily conversations, “listening” really means “waiting for our turn to speak”. You need to observe your children carefully. Their language may be intemperate or they may struggle to express the thoughts which are going through their heads.
Don’t rush to answer your children’s questions. Take a moment to consider your response. The small pause helps to keep the atmosphere relatively calm and it reassures your children that you are taking them seriously and thinking about what they are asking you. They would never describe it the way we have just done but they will always know if you try to rush your answers.
Sometimes, a child might struggle to express himself coherently. A younger child might simply lack the right words; an older child may be wrestling with feelings he finds difficult to articulate. Again, take your time before answering and, where you are not sure, explore the question with your child before you attempt to answer it. We are thinking here of questions around the loss of old friends, anxiety about the future and terror at the thought of making new friends. Your child might be embarrassed to admit to such deep fears but that doesn’t mean they are not real.
Do Your Homework Ahead Of Time!
The fewer uncertainties there are about your move the more quickly your children will get used to the idea and even welcome it. Do you know the answers to questions such as: “what school will I be going to?”; “what’s my teacher called?”; “how many children are there in the school?” If you can, you should find out before you announce the move.
If your children are members of the Guides or Scouts or some other youth organisation, see if you can enrol them before arrival at the new place. It may be possible for the group leader to write a short welcoming letter to your children which you can post from the new town. Gestures such as this reassure your children that they will not be cast adrift in a sea of strangers.
If you are able to visit your new home ahead of your announcement to the family, take some photographs of the area on your mobile phone that you can show them. Let them see the house, even if only from the outside; let them see their new school; the shops; the cinema; the leisure centre and whatever else you think may interest them. If there are local landmarks and places to visit, make a note of them so that your children know that there are interesting things to see and do.
If you are not able to take photographs, use Google Earth to explore the new area instead. Familiarity lessens fear. If your children feel they know the new place a little, they will grow comfortable with the idea more quickly.
Obviously, you have already arranged to have your water, gas and electricity connected for the day of the move – but have you registered the family with a new doctor yet? This might be very important if any of your family is being treated for a medical condition.
Accentuate The Positive
We know this is a horrible, corporate phrase – but it has merit. Before you tell your children about your house move, think about why you are doing it. Remember, too, that something which counts as a positive for an adult may simply fail to resonate with a child. For example, if you are moving house to take up a new job which will pay double what you are now earning, that Is brilliant news for you but it will mean less than nothing to your six year old.#
You need to look at your new world through the eyes and minds of your children. Perhaps there are better sports facilities for your football mad son or a big swimming pool close enough for your mermaid daughter to go nearly every day. For a teenager, maybe public transport is cheaper and more frequent than where you are now.
Whatever the positives of your move are, they have to be positive things which make sense to your children and are directly relevant to them. They simply will not be interested in your adult concerns.
Your children will not take in everything you say at your first meeting. They need time to absorb and accept whatever you are telling them. We said earlier that they will be grieving the loss of familiar things and, when people grieve, they keep going over and over old ground. You should be prepared to be repeat yourself frequently while your children adjust to their changed circumstances.
My Decision Is Final
Your children need to know from the outset that your decision cannot be changed. Think back to your own childhood: do you remember how you used to believe that, if you wished very very hard or were very very good for Mummy, the bad things in your life would magically become good things? Well, your children may well be thinking like that now. The quicker they understand that they cannot change the facts, the quicker they will accept the situation.
Engage Your Children In The Move
The exact way you engage your children in the move will depend on how old they are but even the youngest children will benefit from being involved in the move in some way. There is an added advantage to doing this: it will keep your children busy and leave them with less time to worry about the immediate future.
Use this opportunity to work with your children and teach them new things. Stretch them a little and let them help in grown-up ways. For example, you may be constructing wooden packing cases: do you really have to stencil the cases and fix all the screws yourself or is this a job where you can enjoy teaching your children? It will take longer than if you do it yourself so think ahead and allow the necessary extra time for them to learn from you.
The same sort of thing applies to packing. Give the children some responsibility for making sure things are packed. Help them to think about the best order or to keep the inventory records so that you know what you have in each box or case. It’s all good experience.
If you’re clearing your present house down room by room, move the children into one of the empty rooms and let them have an indoor camping holiday for the last few days. Let them make dens out of the furniture and sleep on the floor in sleeping bags or blankets. Let them have a midnight feast and allow them to stay up later than they usually would. It may be a little disorganised and chaotic but think of it as laying down memories for them. Admittedly, you are disrupting their normal routine for a few nights – but you are changing their lives forever so does a few days of anarchy really matter that much?
Reward Your Children
Acknowledge that the disruption of the move is hard work. Reward them unexpectedly and tell them the reason is that you appreciate how hard they have worked on the move or how well they have supported you. Treats don’t need to be big but they do need to be unexpected. Don’t say, “If you do this I will give you that”. Instead, say something like, “Because you did this, I decided that you deserved this. Thank you.” Your children will value the treat more if it is presented this way.
Children often take their cues from the behaviour of the adults around them. Whatever your own worries and fears, you should always appear happy and confident in front of your children. If you appear to be looking forward to the new and exciting change, they will start to believe that this move is all for the good. If, on the other hand, you display uncertainty or unhappiness, you can hardly be surprised if your children sub-consciously pick up on your mood and start to behave badly.
Always remember that walls have ears! A house with no carpets transmits sound unbelievably clearly and that whispered argument you are having with your partner may well be heard loudly and clearly in the children’s bedroom! There is no such thing as privacy in an echoing house – so take your argument somewhere else or save it for when the children are elsewhere.
Toys & Other Possessions
Children – even quite old ones – need the comfort of the familiar. Make sure that they have a favourite cuddly toy, blanket or other treasured possession which can stay with them all through the move.
We have already mentioned that, if possible, you should ensure you are registered with your new doctor before the actual move. If your children are on medication, there may still be a period where they are between doctors. We suggest that you speak with your current GP to explain that you are moving and ask him to prescribe extra medicines sufficient to see you through the house move and for a week or two afterwards.
On The Day
You should write a number of checklists for different purposes, One checklist will obviously relate to the house. Is everything turned off and secured – that sort of thing. In addition, though, you should create a travelling checklist for the family. This should cover items such as refreshments, clothing, equipment, medication for the journey and toys – especially toys. You really do not want to deal with a child who has suddenly discovered that Teddy has been abandoned forever and is now languishing some fifty miles away …. We leave you to contemplate that horror on your own for a few moments.
Refreshments and medication are self-explanatory. By clothing, we are thinking of coats, scarves, gloves, and boots – anything which is being carried rather than worn. Equipment might include ‘phones, music devices, laptops and tablet computers. Prepare your checklist in advance and then take the necessary few moments before you set off to make sure you have everything with you.
Especially the toys …
We hope we have given you some food for thought. Children are pretty resilient on the whole and, with some forethought, imagination and patience on your part, you should find that the day of the move, at least as far as your children are concerned, goes more smoothly than you dared dream.
Bonne chance et bonne voyage!