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This guest post was written by Nancy Zafrani, the general manager of Oz Moving & Storage in New York City. A day-one employee of Oz, she has 25 years of experience in the moving industry. As a New Yorker, Nancy also has lots of experience dealing with small apartments and organizing.
It is no secret that moving is stressful for adults, but sometimes we forget it can be hard for kids, too. A move uproots them from their home—possibly the only one they’ve ever known. Plus, it can also mean leaving behind friends and starting a new school. Research from Warwick Medical School even showed that frequently changing schools can increase the risk of psychological symptoms in later years.
So, how can we help kids cope with moving stress to prevent present and future problems? It starts with the move itself.
Introduce Your New Home
Much of children’s fear and stress come from the unknown. Therefore, it is a great idea to familiarize them with the new home and moving process before the move takes place.
Explore the New Neighborhood. We suggest taking a day trip to your new home to start planning its layout before the move. This outing also presents the perfect opportunity to introduce your child to their new home. Apart from the house, you may want to check out nearby parks, local hotspots, and your child’s new school during this trip. Familiarizing them with their new surroundings sooner-than-later can help put them at ease.
Show Them Pictures. If the new home is too far to see in person, be sure to show them photos and the virtual tour from the real estate listing. Take this opportunity to discuss the positives of the home and point out their bedroom to help get them excited.
Read Moving Books. Reading moving-related children’s books to younger kids can teach them about the moving process, let them know what to expect, and be a great comfort in general. Plus, books can also serve as a healthy distraction and stress reliever during this time of transition.
Help Them Get Excited
Once you’ve introduced the new home, it’s time to help your kids visualize themselves there. This can turn some of their anxiety into excitement and help them look forward to the move.
Draw A Picture. Ask younger children to draw what they want their new room to look like, what they want to do in their new home, or what activities they want to do after the move. This will get them thinking about what it will be like to live there and can help them express emotions, much like art therapy.
Create an Inspiration Board. Older children can create an inspiration board on Pinterest and pin images of bedrooms, accessories, and colors they love. Their new bedroom probably won’t have that designer chandelier they pinned, but these activities can be great to come up with layouts and color palettes—and most importantly, get them excited about the move.
Research Extracurriculars. Have your children look up available activities that they might enjoy at their new school or around town. Bonus: Once moved, these activities are also great for making new friends.
Let Them Have Input
Children that feel unheard are more likely to feel lonely, disconnected, and depressed. Since they probably had very little say in where you moved, get their opinion on other move-related topics to make them feel more involved with the process.
Ask About Small Things. These questions shouldn’t necessarily be about big decisions, but rather smaller ones that you can follow through on. What vegetables should you plant in the garden? What color should you paint the front door? Where should the slide in the backyard go? This can also give them activities to look forward to once settled into the new home.
Packing can feel like a chore, but by including your kids you can make it fun and make them feel included in the move. Plus, doing things as a family during this time reinforces that they are loved and not everything will change.
Pick Fun Packing Supplies. Take a trip to buy boxes and other moving supplies as a family. Then let your kids pick out special tape or stickers to decorate their boxes. Afterward, grab a special treat, like frozen yogurt, to unwind for a bit.
Decorate Boxes. Pick up your packing boxes a few weeks before you need them and let your kids decorate them with drawings and stickers. You can even get them to “label” each box with a picture that depicts which room the box belongs in or illustrates the contents of the box.
Get Creative. And if they are entirely disinterested in packing, a box fort can keep them occupied for hours while you get packing done. If you think they might not be interested because of anxiety or overwhelm, try a 5-senses stress-busting kit.
Lots of moving tasks are stressful or boring, so don’t forget to have a bit of fun in the process. This will help everyone bond and de-stress.
Say Goodbye. Have a family night where you say goodbye to your home. This will give everyone a chance to relax and also help the kids get a bit of closure. A bon voyage cake or pizza is always a fun idea. Top off the evening with everyone discussing their favorite memories in the home—recording this discussion is highly recommended.
Reuse Moving Boxes: Upcycling moving boxes is an excellent alternative to throwing all that cardboard in a landfill—and a lot more fun! A few cardboard box craft projects can be just what your child needs to unwind. Moving boxes are great for building castles, making cars, cardboard guitars, barns, and more. The possibilities are endless.
Most importantly, you’ll want to communicate with your child every step of the way. Make sure they know what they can expect next and that they are always free to ask questions. With an open line of communication and a few enjoyable moving activities, you will not only help your child cope with moving stress but come out of the move as a closer and happier family.
How have you addressed stress during a family move?