Moving house can feel like an insurmountable task for anyone, (just today for example I suddenly had a massive panic whilst out shopping about all the things I still need to do to get our house move sorted and how we might not be able to afford forking out an extra £100 per month, despite paying £450 for the privilege of someone agreeing that what is written on Carl’s payslip is the same number we told them it would be and if we use 2/3 of his monthly income we can cover the rent), but children can often be affected at an even deeper level as the safety and security of their family home is somewhat ‘threatened’ beyond their control:
“Mummy I don’t want to go to a new house. I want my house right now,” announced my 2 year old this morning, whilst walking to school.
Even if it is an event they have experienced numerous times, for whatever reason, moving house is a big life event that takes time to come to terms with. I’m still waiting to feel excited or positive about the upcoming move, to be honest!
Anyway, having now moved 3 times as a family and currently gearing up for move number 4 (in 5 years), we have learned a fair few things about supporting children through this period of change and ways to bring about a sense of calm amid the chaos that we’d love to share with you.
1. Prepare them for the event:
We are always honest with the children about an upcoming move and try to keep them informed (at an age appropriate level) of when this will be happening, why and where we will be going next, as much as possible. To begin with we might casually drop it into a conversation about how the landlord wants to return to/ sell the house at some point so that the dialogue is open.
We often get books out of the library about moving house (especially helpful for preschoolers) so we can talk about the process (planning, viewing, packing, etc) and help them visualise what will happen. There are several great books out there, which cover the basics (Usborne First Experiences: Moving House, Topsy and Tim)- getting boxes, cleaning things, clearing out clutter, packing up a lorry, etc and some more that also include the feeling side of things (First Time Stories: We’re Moving House)- sadness at leaving friends behind, anxiety about sleeping in a new room, excitement about a bigger garden. These are a great tool for supporting the thoughts and feelings your child(ren) might go through, but don’t necessarily have the ability to express verbally. Even as adults the range of emotions creep up on you!
We also encourage role play (putting things in bags and boxes and ‘driving’ with our things to a new place), we might make/ take/ draw some pictures of houses and talk about what makes it become a home, what our ideal place would be, etc and mark the move date in the calendar when known. Although none of these seem much on an adult level, they can really help young children feel a part of the process, know it will be ok in the end and have a basic idea of what moving house looks like.
2. Take them to visit the new house:
Once you are in a position to pay a holding deposit and tenancy agreements are being written up (slightly different for buyers), try to arrange another viewing of the property for your children.
Going to look around the actual house they will be moving into is much more comforting than taking them with you on prospective viewings, even if it does seem quite exciting nosing round a load of random properties in the local area! We have found that no matter what the house looks like, the child will cling on to the hope that it will be ‘the one’, as a means of acquiring some degree of security, but can then get incredibly upset when you decide otherwise.
Having the chance to view the new place before move in day gives them a sense of ownership and means nothing is a surprise or something to worry over. The empty place allows them to plan where things might go and how they will make use of the space when their own things are there.
3. Involve them in the packing:
Every child loves a box and what better time to give them some to play with, make dens with, build forts with than when moving house. It can actually make packing up quite a fun process and gets them involved in something, leaving you time to crack on with the real packing!
Another way to help children adjust to a move is getting them involved in packing up their belongings and sorting through their toys so they know where things are on the other side. They might want to help organise toys, books, teddies etc in a particular way, make labels for the packaging and help think about where they will put each item in the new place. If you are 2, you may enjoy being in charge of cutting the tape used for sticking box flaps down, because you can now use scissors independently, or that might just be my tiny one!
There is always about a week or so (if you are doing all the packing and moving yourself) when most things are packed up and unavailable for use until after the move and this is where ‘Treasure Boxes’ become a lifeline! Over the years we have crafted little treasure boxes that the children can fill with their most prized possessions. It could be their favourite book, their most cuddly teddy, some photos,etc, or things that look like absolute trash to you, but mean something to the little lost soul with nothing to play with!
When we were made homeless as children for 6 months, a small package of my favourite things (it wasn’t tied up with string though) brought such comfort to me during the upheaval of not having a permanent place to call home.
4. Show feelings:
In the weeks prior to moving house, you just have to accept that anything goes! Any feeling and emotion can and most probably will be felt at one point or another: extra tears, huge temper tantrums, hyper activity, for example and this whole range of wobbles illustrates just how unsettling and upsetting packing up a family home can be, even for us seasoned professionals!
As adults we have found feeling all the feels and then supporting others through them can be one of the biggest challenges with moving, but the simple act of labelling feelings, being open about your own struggles (“I’m feeling so sad today about leaving this house and it’s making me quite grumpy. I could do with a nice big hug!”) can help children identify why they might be struggling and how to ask for help!
Feeling new or big emotions may seem out of place or worrying for children, especially if this is their first move or they are a particularly sensitive child, but with support they can get through the emotional turmoil and be excited for the future.
5. Settle them first:
The first night in a new place always feels a bit odd, but with a few special touches the children can become more relaxed in the new environment and actually look forward to bedtime and spending time in their new house.
We always try to sort the children’s bedrooms first; get their beds up, unpack some books for them and pop the teddies back on the ends of their beds. If they are used to having pictures or posters on their walls I recommend putting these back up as soon as you can, to help make the new place feel safe, homely and relaxing for them from the outset.
We also like to give them each a little gift to help them remember the move in a positive way in the future. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or even brand new, but something meaningful to them. Last time we moved, we found some bedding sets with pictures of tv characters the boys were really in to at the time. We set their room up before they came to the house and seeing their excitement as they discovered the new duvet covers made much of the stress from the previous few weeks worth it! (Babies, however, benefit from keeping the same covers from their last place for a while, so smells and comfort remain.)
We have also given new teddies, bedtime books and breakfast crockery in the past and even decorated one bedroom with colourful fairy lights picked up for £1!
6. Treat yourself after the big day:
No-one will feel like cooking at the end of moving day. In fact you’ll be lucky if you can even stay awake long enough to eat at all! So set a new family ritual that means the first meal at your new place is pure indulgence and comfort!
We always grab a cheeky McDonald’s after moving house! For a family that only eat a Maccy D’s on Christmas Eve, it is a big treat after a day of hard work, little contact with each other and usually a few hiccups thrown in for good measure! Reconnecting around the dinner table (whatever you are eating) is such a simple, yet special way to end the day. I personally would choose something a little more exciting, but this is all about the children after all! 😉
7. Say goodbye:
Whenever things come to an end, it’s always good to say goodbye and look to the future with a positive mindset. Once you have emptied the old house, take the children back in if you are able and say goodbye. This act of closure allows them to have one last chance to finish a chapter from their lives without the chaos of boxes and noise before they move on to their next place. If you were close to the neighbours you could knock on their door to bid your farewells too and maybe take some photos for them to look back on at a later date.
We also like to reminisce about our favourite times in that particular property or talk about events that stood out for other reasons (accidents, floods, collapsed ceilings…).
My eldest finds this last step incredibly sad and will often try to resist coming with us, but with time he always says how glad he is that he had the chance to go back in and say his goodbyes as it helped him feel ready to move on.
With just a few weeks to go until the next move we are already using some of these steps to help us prepare for the new chapter and support the children through a big change. One day I hope someone makes a list for the adults! Let me know if this is helpful and much luck and love if you are going through this too.