How do I help my kids through a move, especially when I'm torn between trying to make their environment comfortable (e.g. unpacking) and trying to help them sort out everything that is new in their lives? They are definitely struggling, missing our old home and life. Frankly, it's been hard on us all.
Most children thrive on the familiar. The experience of beging tossed around by the changes that come with a move can feel overwhelming, even if there are great things about a new house or neighborhood. Here are some thoughts about how to help your children adjust.
• Prioritize. While you may long to unpack those boxes and start feeling settled, your children need help processing big feelings about all the changes in their lives. Take your cues from them; put aside your unpacking and take time to talk or snuggle, even if it means living with the visual chaos a little longer.
• Engage in familiar routines. In the midst of change, children need to lean on the things that are the same. Read the stories they love, maintain consistent bedtime rituals, play favorite games and sit down together for family meals -- even if you're surrounded by boxes!
• Involve them in making the house a home. Many children do better with a move when they feel included in the process. Let your children unpack books or organize the silverware. Having a job can help them feel less untethered, creating an anchor and sense of connection to their new environment.
• Give your children time to adjust. New houses have new smells and sounds, and it takes time to get used to the feel of a different place. Point out the positive elements in their new environment. Did you notice how the neighborhood park has a basketball court? But let them know you're also aware of the things that are not the same. This kitchen doesn't have big windows like our other one did.
• Encourage tears. It's natural that your children may be sad about moving, even if they're excited about their new home. If you consistently try to talk them out of their feelings by pointing out all the swell things about this house versus the older one, they will learn to withhold and suppress negative emotions. Encourage them to have a good cry, if that's what's needed.
• Take care of yourself. Moving is extremely stressful (not to mention exhausting!) Even if you're happy with where you are now, the physical and emotional energy you have expended to arrive in your new home can take a lot out of you. Make sure you're eating well, resting and taking time to recharge with friends and loved ones. Don't push beyond your limits; you'll wear yourself out, and your children will be affected by your fatigue and irritability.
Your kids are coping with what may be the biggest loss they have yet faced in their young lives. While children generally adapt to change quickly, allow for a period of adjustment, and pace yourself so you can be there for them in the ways that matter most; as the steady and loving presence that makes anyplace they lay their head feel like home.
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Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting. To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter at ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com.