“We’re Moving?!” 7 Tips to Help Kids Thrive During A Move

Little Girl Holding a Box with parents holding boxes in background

Houses are where memories are made. Within their walls, children learn to smile, laugh, and love. The floor supports their bare feet, the closets beckon games of hide-and-seek, and the garage provides the acoustics for their fledgling teen band.

Houses–are homes.

Some of us spend our entire childhood in one home, letting our roots grow strong and wide. 

Others, however, have to relocate.

It could be a parent’s new job in a different state or a divorce forcing new living arrangements. Maybe it’s a foreclosure or a terminated lease. No matter the reason, relocation can be painful. It’s uprooting from a place of comfort–a shrine of memories–and rerooting in a new place strange and unfamiliar. 

And then there are the boxes. So. Many. Boxes. 

It’s so easy for kids and parents alike to get overwhelmed by the stress of it all. 

So how can we assist them with the transition? How do we convince them that when we move, we aren’t just losing a home and all that goes with it–but gaining a new one?

The following strategies can help ease the stress–and the fears–a relocation may be causing your family. 

1. Keep Things Routine (When You Can)

The turmoil of moving means items are in constant disarray and a huge checklist of to-do items hangs constantly over our heads. It means tears will sneak up at the smallest triggers and emotional goodbyes will engage us at every turn.

Luckily, the chaos of moving can be balanced by keeping what can be controlled routine.

Maybe it’s a consistent bedtime routine for our 3-year-old–with the same stories, prayers, and snuggles–despite sleeping on an air mattress in an empty new house. Maybe it’s keeping our high school student’s homework and extracurricular activities consistent in his last week at his current school.

For routines that can’t be maintained during a move, like family dinners around the dinner table, evening bath time in a shower-only hotel, or weekly playdates with neighbors, we can do our best to quickly reinvent similar routines–or establish new ones–once re-settled. 

Moving is generally a long process. It’s full of daily, unrelenting change for weeks–even months–at a time. Routine, at its best and most basic, gives kids something comfortable and reliable when all else is different.

2. Create A Decision-Rich Environment 

When torn from their home, school, and friends, kids may view their lives as spinning completely out of control. In truth, they generally don’t have any control over where and why they are moving. Fortunately, we can combat this by allowing kids to call some of the shots.

Creating a Decision-Rich Environment–just one of the 36 tools in my 7-Step Parenting Success System course–gives kids this opportunity. It allows them to make choices that empower them and offers a portion of the control they crave.

Children may feel empowered by choosing their room in the new house, picking-out new sheets and decorations, and determining the new school activities they’d like to be a part of. They can be involved in meal planning–even if some of those meals are take-out.

Although they probably can’t hand-pick which neighborhood they’ll be living in or which school they’ll be attending, we can still involve them in the process of house-hunting, neighborhood exploration, and school tours before deciding where to live. Their opinion may or may not determine the final choice, but either way they will know that it is valued.

Moving is also a time to go through toys, clothes, and household goods and decide what to keep, give, and throw away. Involving kids in this process allows them to determine what they are willing to part with and what they can’t live without. In fact, purging items–Marie Kondo-style–can be as therapeutic for kids as it is for adults. 

By choosing to say goodbye to her softball trophies, your teenage daughter may reach some closure over having to leave her beloved team.

By throwing away some of his less refined artwork, an 8-year-old may be ready to say goodbye to his favorite art teacher.

Even a preschooler can decide what toys she’d like to throw out or give away. Not only is this process empowering–because we’re trusting our kids to make their own choices–but it can offer closure and leave them grateful for what they’ve had.

If we give children permission to decide what to keep, however, they may choose to hoard everything. It could be they aren’t yet willing to part with these sentimental items–which is, ultimately, their decision. In this case, we can go through their things after the move when things feel less emotional. 

After all, we can only handle so much change at one time. 

3. Talk it Out/Communicate Openly

Moving is consistently considered one of the most stressful things a person can do. Because of this, encouraging open communication is crucial. 

If our kids want to express their concerns, we need to listen. If they don’t want to share, we can let them know we’re always available if–and when–they’re ready to talk. 

Verbalizing issues, or even just admitting and respecting that they are sad (like Riley does after moving to San Francisco in Disney/Pixar’s poignant movie Inside Out) is one of the best ways kids process big emotions. 

If children are older and don’t love communicating, we can encourage them to talk openly with their friends or even a counselor. They can even keep a daily, private journal. It’s just important they find a healthy outlet so their feelings aren’t pent-up. 

We can also promote our kids’ communication by opening up ourselves. If we can admit our own difficulties with a move, kids will likely feel less alone and discouraged by overpowering emotions. 

helping kids with relocation quote

We also need to be upfront by sharing the news and details about a move with our kids immediately. Hiding or withholding information that they eventually discover might make them feel like relocating is worse than it is–or something to fear. Also, sharing the news immediately gives kids more time to come to grips with the transition. They need–and deserve–as much time as we do to process their emotions.

4. Be Patient and Empathize

Imagine that your 12-year-old was struggling all last year with the transition from elementary to middle school. She was fraught with emotions from puberty and the pressure of making friends. 

You’re beyond relieved when you finally see her find a group of kids that she likes and cliques with. 

Then one afternoon–after your spouse secures a long-sought-after job–you’re forced to break the news to her; the family has to move–by next month–to the other side of the country.

The news might be unbelievable, devastating. You may hear phrases like “my life is over” and “how could you do this to me?”

It’s easy to feel hurt and angry when kids unleash backlash over a relocation–especially when it’s outside of our own control. But rather than fighting fire with fire, we can use patience and empathy to diffuse the battle. This might even help dispel any resentment our kids are harboring towards us.

We can say things like, “I know how scary this must be for you. Moving is incredibly hard. I know you’ll miss your friends.” 

Or, “You have a right to feel sad and frustrated.”

Teens and tweens might struggle much more with a move than their younger counterparts. For older kids, friends and a sense of communal belonging outside of the family are imperative. But, moving at any age can even leave short and long-term impacts when kids don’t feel supported.

Many military dependents, for example, are forced to move a handful or more times throughout their upbringing. The PCS (Permanent Change of Station) process may become familiar to them, but it rarely becomes less challenging. The difficulty of maintaining long-distance friendships, feeling a sense of belonging, and adjusting to new school academics can be relentless.

Remembering the difficulties our children face during relocation puts ourselves in their shoes and shows the compassion they require.

Is relocation in your near future?
Breaking the news to your kids can be like dropping a bomb.

One of the ways we can ensure the bomb doesn’t cause massive destruction is by consistently building up our children in meaningful ways.

We recommend parents use phrases of ENCOURAGEMENT (not praise) to empower children and help them become more resilient. Use this List of Encouraging Words to build your child’s self-esteem in meaningful ways and soften the blow. 

5. Stay Positive

Adults aren’t immune to the stressors of moving, either. Like our kids, the move may not be something we want or voluntarily chose.

Staying positive begins by maintaining control over our own anxiety. This isn’t denial or a lack of open communication–we still need to admit to our kids the ways in which we might be struggling. However, it IS controlling dramatic outbursts and giving the complicated emotions we’re feeling a positive spin.

As undeniably tough as moving can be, beneficial things result from relocation–the confidence of knowing we can adapt, the gift of having a wide network of friends in more than one place, and growing stronger emotionally. And the list goes on.

We can focus our children on these positive aspects whenever possible. While not discounting their anxiety and grief about the move, it may be helpful to say things like:

“It may take time, but moving will give you the chance to make even more friends.”

“I know you’re sad about leaving your ballet class, but it looks like the dance academy near our new house is accepting new students!”

“Where we’re moving has lots of beaches! I can see you right now playing volleyball in the sand.” Or, “We’re moving to a place with lots of snow…you can finally learn to snowboard!” 

Spreading positivity doesn’t mean our kids will suddenly alter their demeanor or accept the changes they’re facing. However, setting an example of optimism and gratitude can be contagious and help alleviate their concerns.

6. Encourage the Use of Technology to Stay in Touch with Friends

These days, most of us are fighting against our kids’ excessive use of technology and social media. We know it has its negative aspects. But when used to keep in touch with long-distance friends, social media is at its best.

We can remind our kids that they’re actually lucky (without sounding too patronizing, of course!). They live in a world where saying goodbye isn’t forever thanks to constant technological contact. 

Whether it’s FaceTime, Marco Polo, or Instagram, they can keep up to date with each other’s daily lives simply, effectively, and long-term. If their friendships are strong enough, distance won’t diminish them.

7. Don’t Underestimate Their Resiliency

Kids may seem fragile, like when asking innocent questions or overemphasizing a tiny “booboo.” They can appear unhinged when they succumb to epic tantrums and teenage mood swings.

Regardless of all the changes and the frustrations they show, kids are also strong. We need to know that a relocation will not destroy them. As long as proper support is in place, we can use a move to teach resilience and enrich their lives. 

Final Thoughts

Whether moving off to college or weathering the fifth elementary school in 5 years, the best we can offer our children is boundless support. 

Of the many silver linings, relocation reminds us to live in the moment–wherever that may find us. The process may be difficult, but it is never without value. Learning to find happiness within ourselves, despite changing surroundings, might be the most beneficial skill any child can learn.

And, who knows…

One day, we might find ourselves in our old town, driving through our old neighborhood. Curiosity takes over–is the house still there? Eventually, we see the lights of an old home that has long since found new owners. Bittersweet feelings may remind us that nothing lasts forever–but we are partially mistaken. 

Each roof we’ve lived under will always be a part of us. No house is ever truly lost.

And exciting new memories in our new homes await us.

Are you at a loss with a sad, mad, or frustrated kid? The good news is, Positive Parenting is all about encouragement. In fact, our List of Encouraging Words can help you and your child focus less on setbacks and more on their brilliant potential.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.