Moving house can be a big upheaval for the whole family, but while adults can remain rational about it, children may suffer from psychological stress and anxiety.
We are able to concentrate on the practicalities of moving and can immerse ourselves in the multitude of things that need to be done in advance; but our children may concentrate on the loss of familiar friends and surroundings, and may feel concerned about the reason for the move.
It is important to help them through the move, be sensitive to their emotions, and to reaffirm your love and the feeling of security children need from parents. You also need to consider the practical side of things, think about how you can involve the kids in the move and how you can prepare them for it.
When to tell them
Talk to your children about the move as early as possible; the longer they know it is happening the easier it is to get used to. Take older children with you when you view properties, so that they feel they are a part of the process and have an input in the decision making. It may not be practical to take younger children with you, but you should talk to them about the move as often as possible.
Younger ones have a shorter attention span and are likely to flit from one subject to another very quickly, but be prepared to return to the subject of moving whenever they want to. You may find yourself answering the same questions several times as your child tries to understand what moving entails, be patient and continue to reassure them to avoid any anxiety.
Getting your children involved in the move can help them to see it as a positive thing, and help them feel that they can have a choice over some things. Talk to them about what colours they want to paint their room, how the furniture should be arranged, and get them used to the idea of a new house.
When to show them the new house
If you didn’t take your children to see the house when you viewed it, then try to arrange a trip for them to see the house for themselves. It makes it seem much more real to children when they have seen their new home, and their new room. Even driving by now and then and pointing out the house will help your children to learn which one is their new house and where it is; the more they see it, the more they will develop a feeling of familiarity with it.
Giving them a choice of bedrooms
It may not be practical, depending on the layout of the house, but if you can give your children a choice of bedroom, it is a wonderful way to give them a sense of ownership during the process.
Rather than dwelling on what they are leaving behind, your children can begin to imagine how their new rooms will look, how they will decorate and furnish them, and where they will put all their things.
Allowing them to choose their new bedroom gives your children the feeling that it ‘belongs’ to them, which will make them much more positive to the move overall.
Dealing with a change of school
A change of school can have quite an impact on children, particularly teenagers. They will have to leave behind a safe, secure environment and will be thrust into a new and strange school. They will have to leave friends behind, and by teenage years some children may have formed very strong bonds with their friends.
Younger children are likely to cope with it better as they tend to rely on their parents for a feeling of security, so as long as you are around to reassure them, they will find the transition much easier.
It is important to remain in close contact with the school in the first few months to make sure your child is settling in, and is integrating into the school. Talk to your child regularly about school, take time to ask how they are getting on, and offer to help them with anything they need regularly.
Look out for any changes in behaviour that might be caused by the anxiety of being at a new school; suddenly becoming shy or introverted, showing unusually aggressive behaviour, or becoming very clingy to parents are all potential signs of stress or worry.
Emotions and worries about leaving friends
It is difficult for all of us to leave behind our old friends when we move house. Don’t neglect your children’s feelings about leaving friends; bear in mind that teenagers are almost ‘adult’ in terms of developing relationships, but are emotionally naive when it comes to dealing with them.
Your children may not have suffered any real loss in their lives, and could take losing a friend from a house move completely out of proportion as they have no real barometer to measure their loss by. Be extremely patient with children and allow them time to grieve and come to terms with leaving behind old friends. Showing little sympathy or expecting them to just ‘get on with it’ could make the recovery time longer, as you will only add more stress to the situation.
Helping them to settle in after the move
Children will not adjust to a new home straight away and it is important to give them plenty of time to get used to their new surroundings. A six week period is usually considered a reasonable time to get settled in a new school, and you could expect your children to be settled in their new home in a similar time frame.
Get their rooms unpacked and set up as soon as possible after you move in, this will help them to get used to the new home and give them a sense of security. Show them around the new area and spend as much time with them as possible in the early days; the less uncertainty in their lives, the safer and more confident your children will feel.