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HomeFamilyParenting AdviceHelping kids adjust when moving — Good Parenting

Helping kids adjust when moving — Good Parenting

movingDear Dr. Debbie,

This has come up kind of suddenly, but our family is moving this week. What advice do you have for us and our four children who range in age from 8 months to 8 years?

Planning and Packing

Don’t miss last week’s column How to ease fears of the first professional haircut — Good Parenting

Dear Planning and Packing,

A move with children can be an adventure. It is also disruptive when you are living out of boxes, and you can’t find anything and the older children have no one to play with. Younger children will be affected more by their parents’ stress level than the older ones, so the sooner life settles down to a normal routine, the better for everyone.

The Move Itself

Professional movers can simplify the physical process of packing up a household, transporting everything, and delivering furniture and boxes to the proper rooms. If you clearly mark out a floor plan for the furniture and label each box by its corresponding room, all that’s left for you is to put things into drawers, cupboards, and closets and to make the beds. (Some companies do all this, too!) If this will be more of a “self move” than a professional job, you need to coordinate your time and that of any friends and relatives who offer to help. An offer for child care should be eagerly accepted.

Infants and Toddlers

Make plans for some babysitter time for both packing and unpacking. These activities are hard to do with one arm holding a baby and two eyes keeping track of a toddler. A toddler can be included in packing up some toys and clothes, marked clearly so he can also unpack them. This will give him some idea of what’s going on. Choose one toy to put in an overnight bag along with pj’s, enough diapers for 24 to 48 hours, healthy snack foods and any other essentials.

If the locations of your old home and new home support it, think about being a “guest” for a night or two in the home of a friend or relative where necessities are easily found or provided. This tactic assumes someone else (Daddy?) can take the time to set up the new home so it’s more ready for use.

Use one container for “pack last and open first” items to get you through the last and first few meals. Planning will save you from having to locate and buy meals out (which may be something to consider as part of the moving adventure for older children). Your transition meals could be as simple as the ingredients for sandwiches or other such foods appropriate for a picnic. Considering the time between packing and unpacking, a cooler could be used for perishables just as you might pack for a camping trip. Put utensils and napkins in the cooler, too.


A preschooler’s world is a bit wider than a toddler’s. In addition to planning for everything you need between functional homes, try to scope out the nearest park and playground to your new residence before moving day. You and the preschooler (and perhaps his siblings) can locate and try out the public library, and get a couple things from the neighborhood grocery store.

If your preschooler will go to a new school or child care center, arrange a tour before the move. Take pictures as you visit the places that will soon become familiar. New faces can also be photographed so that the new next door neighbor, the children’s librarian and especially your child’s soon-to-be teacher can be seen before moving day.

If your preschool child will be leaving behind playmates, be sure to get contact information to support continuing friendships after the move. Again, pictures can be taken to bridge these relationships between “before we moved” and “after we moved.” These might be taken at a good-bye party to help your preschool child hold onto his friends until they can get together again. With today’s technology, good friendships can persist across great distances.

After you move, reach out to his old friends by phone. It will help your child’s adjustment if he can articulate his impressions of his new home, and laugh with his old pal in the event that items turn up broken or missing as the family re-establishes it living quarters.

Elementary schoolers

For the school-age child, a move is an adventure. Since he is more sure of the world, he is more ready to embrace the discovery of new places and people. A school-age child, however, will feel more disruption from the loss of his friendships than a younger child. Therefore, do all that you can to identify and maintain the treasured friendships that he has forged. He can share and eventually take over responsibility for turning an old pal into a pen pal and or making and keeping a regular FaceTime play date.

Your school-age child may need some assistance to work his way into the social circles of the new neighborhood. Once you have registered him for school (and hopefully had an advance visit), budget some time to find out about clubs, sports and other opportunities where he can find new buddies. Your forays into new social circles of other parents and families can also help. Ask at the school or the library about publications or websites that list children’s and family activities. Parent volunteers are often needed to run Scout troops, faith-based youth groups and more. Whatever family activities you participated in before the move probably have a counterpart in the new community.

The most important advice is to manage the logistics of moving so that it’s least stressful for you. Even if you have trouble finding things for a while, your children will be assured that home is where your family finds itself.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.

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