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Home Family Parenting Advice Moving day with a 3-year-old — Good Parenting

Moving day with a 3-year-old — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We’ll soon be moving — nearby, just a bigger house to accommodate adding a baby. My husband and I have been cleaning, thinning out our junk and packing for several weeks already. Our 3-year-old is excited about the “big playroom” in the new house, which he has visited with us twice. We talk about moving, but I’m sure he can’t comprehend what it all means. He’ll still go to the same preschool, and he didn’t really have much to do with the neighborhood children because they were all older. How much detail — or which details — does he need about the changes coming?

Living With Boxes

Don’t miss last week’s column Considering birth control for college — Good Parenting

Dear LWB,

It may surprise you to know what “home” means to him. Sights, sounds and especially smells take hold in our memories from very early in life. It may be the mailbox that he’ll miss, or the cheerful yap of a neighbor’s dog. My family moved when I was 3 and I was aware that the black and white tile pattern in our new bathroom matched the one in the apartment we’d left behind. My 3-year-old self welcomed the sight as if the tiles were saying, “Hello, again. You know us. You’ll be fine here.” I was lucky to have spent my remaining childhood years in the same house. I often find myself there in my dreams.

Fifteen years after moving in, I left for college. When I came home for a weekend, the sound of a train passing a few miles from my house seemed as much a part of my bedroom as the color of the curtains. The same as being tucked in by a loving parent, that particular sound (it has to be the right kind of train at just the right distance) still feels like all is well.

A 3-year-old is very rooted in his daily routine which includes familiar people, dependable playthings and other objects. Since you say the move is nearby, your family’s away-from-home routines will probably be much the same. The same grocery stores, parks, playgrounds, libraries, and friends’ homes will still be part of your everyday lives.

In your conversations about the move with your son, review the constants — his blanket will be on his bed in the new house, each toy that he plays with will be in the playroom, etc. Also give him a heads up about what will be different. My daughter endured a move when she was 5 years old and was forlorn about not being able to take her rainbow wallpaper with her. So we included a fond “Good bye to the rainbow wallpaper” when we left. Maybe your child will miss the sounds of the washer and drier, or the refrigerator, or the toilets that will all stay in the “old” house for the family that is moving in. You can help him look forward to getting to know the sounds of the appliances in the new house that will soon become well-known.

Expect that this transition is a major one for your child. On top of becoming a big brother! Typically young children can be expected to get surly and or clingy when people and things around them change. One way to help him cope with this stress is with pretend play. Use some of your empty boxes to play “moving” with him, from one room of your house to another. Add sound effects for the backup horn on the moving truck as you and he carry his beloved objects between “homes.”

One tip for your real moving day: prepare a couple of boxes marked “open first” to lay out the key reminders that his bedroom is still his bedroom — sheets, blanket, stuffed animals, favorite books, his nightlight and the first night’s pj’s. Also pack some easy-to-make food in another box so Mom and Dad can turn out a familiar meal in the new kitchen.

With the looming deadline of a new baby coming, be sure to prioritize and label the rest of the boxes, too!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds 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@jecoannapolis.com

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