Dear Dr. Debbie,
How much advance notice should an eight-year-old and a five-year-old get before a move? It’s not far away, but I suspect the children will have some losses and adjustments that I haven’t considered.
Planning the Packing
It’s best to be straight with your children about the changes that are coming. Generally, a five-year-old isn’t much concerned with anything that’s more than a week away. An eight-year-old has a better grasp of weeks, months, and seasons, so even if a big event is as much as a year away, he might be able to conjure up a mental image of the passage of time until then. Children pick up on bits and pieces of adults’ conversations, so they may already be aware that something is up. Your positive attitude about the move will help them ride out the changes with optimism.
An impending move is the ideal time to assess the continuing value of items in the family’s possession. You might set a limit to the books, stuffed animals, and other objects that tend to accumulate through childhood so there is less that has to be moved. These appraisals should be done with your children’s cooperation lest you unwittingly dispose of a treasure. (I was a hero to a six-year-old by finding a $4 copy for her on e-bay of a much-loved picture book. Her mother had mistaken the cherished volume as one that no longer held any interest in an attempt to clear out the “baby” books in the child’s collection.)
Children can be brought into the process of donating gently used items so they can be enjoyed by others. Your children will benefit from imagining the joy that their actions can create while physically participating in the process of preparing for the move.
As with many things during a pandemic, a household move may be a little trickier at this time. For instance, a visit to the new school or any meetings of new neighbors will need to be virtual, socially distanced, outdoors, and or masked. For children, the most sorrowful and exciting part of moving is losing old friends and discovering new ones. Extended family and friends will be notified of the move, you can assure the children, and will be treated to video chats for grand tours once you’ve moved in.
Use extra efforts to transcend the barriers of masks and walls to get to know the friendly half-faces around you. Video chatting works just as well for staying in touch with “old” friends as it can for spending some time with new friends. These are lonely times for everyone. Be creative with your use of technology so that you and your children keep your social skills in practice even while you’re “safer at home”.
You can start investigating ways to familiarize yourself with your new social and physical surroundings even before the move. While there are currently risks in such routine tasks as grocery shopping and going to the public library, it would be a good idea to locate the places you expect to need, and to learn what precautions they have in place for preventing contagion. There may be online opportunities for after school activities such as scouts and other clubs. Your children’s school is a likely source for lots of local connections for children and families.
Look for an online community newsletter, Facebook page, or other means of getting acquainted with resources your family will need. If you’re in a new county or an incorporated town, check online for the local supplier of coronavirus updates. If deemed necessary, local jurisdictions are able to require more restrictive measures than the state, so it’s a good idea to stay informed.
Last is First
There is a science to packing, particularly with children. Plan out and carefully mark what you’ll need for your first couple of days as if you’re packing for a weekend trip – toothbrushes, clothes, toys, books, and the ingredients and supplies for a few easy-to-fix meals and snacks. The beds, pillows, and linens should be packed with as much thought as the bedtime story books and stuffed animals so that the first night can have its reassuring evening routine. Alternatively, pack sleeping bags with all the bedtime essentials for everyone in order to have a “camp in” on the floor before the bedroom furniture has been all set up.
When packing, consider what you won’t need right away – out of season clothing, for example – and box (and label!) these before everything else. This backwards strategy gives top priority to the items that support daily life by leaving these to be packed closer to moving day.
Spend some time with each of your children to decide what they want to “hand carry” to their new home. If they are going to spend moving day with friends or relatives, this duffel bag, backpack, or pillow case travels with them. If the children are driving with you from one home to the next, these bundles go in the car – possibly on their laps. Ideally there will be at least enough furniture in place when the children arrive that their hand carried items have an obvious and immediate place to go for quick access.
Since a move entails many changes, be sure to review the constants for your children: their personal possessions, familiar pieces of furniture, and their enduring relationships among beloved members of the family.