Moving into a new house is cited as one of life’s most stressful events but there are things you can do to make the process easier.
Ask anyone who has moved house and they’ll tell you that moving is never a walk in the park! In fact, it’s included in the list of hugely stressful life events (such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and discovering you have a terminal illness).
Most of us like familiarity, routine, and order. When you’re moving, you have none of those. Adding to this, your children will likely also feel the stress of moving, making this change even more challenging.
Research shows that one out of every five families move at least once a year. Most moves take place within the same city, but in recent years the number of moves between cities and countries has increased. The most stressful time for families is usually two weeks before and two weeks after the move. It’s during this time that parents can apply the following techniques to help make the transition easier for their children:
Moving home with a baby or toddler
Infants and toddlers usually make the transition well. They may pick up on their parent’s anxiety, however, and consequently become particularly fussy and demanding. Older toddlers, who have just begun to understand a few basic household rules like don’t draw on the walls, need to re-learn these rules in the new house. If the person who cares for your child during the day is changing too, your child may miss the old carer and not be able to express it.
What you can do:
- Keep your child’s daily routine as constant as possible.
- Don’t use this time to change things that your child is used to like taking a bottle away or starting with potty training.
- Keep security objects like special blankets, teddies or bottles close at hand.
- Take short breaks from packing to just play with your child.
Moving home with a pre-schooler
Children in this age group (three to five) are often excited about the move, but may not really understand everything that is going on. They may feel that the stress and negative emotions are somehow their fault. They also find it hard to understand what will go with them and what will stay behind, and may develop fears for their personal belongings and toys.
What you can do:
- Try to pack your child’s belongings last and involve her in the packing process.
- If possible, show her the new house or pictures of the new house so that she can understand what you talk about.
- Allow your child time to explore the new house and garden.
- Try to keep the furniture and decorations in your child’s room more or less the same.
Moving home with an older child
In general, children aged five and upwards are positive before and even immediately after the move. They often have an active imagination and may imagine that the move will make their lives wonderful. After the move, when reality sets in, they may become angry or depressed, especially if they haven’t made friends yet.
What you can do:
- Identify activities or clubs your child can join before you move to help her make friends.
- Organise a farewell party for your child at the old home.
- If your child is particularly fond of the hold house, help her make a memory box with pictures, a bag of sand from the sandpit, and some leaves from her favourite tree, for instance.
When to seek help
If you notice any of the following signs before, during, or after a move, your child may benefit from professional help (from an educational psychologist or play therapist):
- Persistent behavioural problems like regression, aggression, depression, excessive crying, and excessive clinginess.
- Permanent changes in eating and/or sleeping habits.
- Children who had to move and adjust to a new family setup (after a divorce, for instance) usually need extra support.