As we all know, moving is one of the most stressful tasks you can ever undertake; however, as much as it's difficult for adults, it's even harder for the younger members of the family.
When told they are moving, small children often feel scared, uncertain and a sense that their world is collapsing. In fact, because a child's home is their world, a world they associate with family, love and safety, the thought of it no longer existing can be quite frightening.
For older children, the fear of leaving friends, teachers, a school they know and a familiar routine can be equally hard. For both young children and older children, there are some things you can do to help them adjust to the move a little more smoothly.
How to Tell Them
- Tell them early. As soon as the decision has been made, tell your family. This is one of the most-asked questions by kids when moving news is announced: when did you decide this? Letting them know that they are the first people to hear of your decision will provide some assurance that they matter.
- Hold a family meeting. Ask everyone to stay at the kitchen table after dinner, or turn off the television and hold it in your family room. Just make sure all members are present. I also suggest not breaking the news at a restaurant or other public forum as children need to be able to express their emotions freely. Try to do it in a warm, open environment where everyone feels comfortable. And to ensure children don't worry about the subject of your news, don't announce the meeting unless it's a regular occurrence in your household. Make it an impromptu get-together.
- Set ground rules. If you've never held a family meeting, set some ground rules, rules that everyone can agree to. Do this at the beginning of the meeting and write down the rules where they are clearly visible. Encourage everyone to add their suggestions then come to a consensus. One such rule might be: "Do not talk when someone else is talking" or "No facial gestures or side comments." The list is endless.
- Remain open. Allow your children to be upset. Let them ask a million questions. Let them storm off to their room. Above all, let them talk. Children need to know they've been heard.
- Be very clear that the decision is final. Keep this in mind later during the move when you start to get cold feet. The most important thing is to always show your children you are sure of the decision and to always remain firm. Wavering on your decision or expressing doubts will cause your children to worry and to feel even more uncertain then they do. Take your cold feet to a friend or journal or discuss it with your spouse or partner when you're away from the house. And don't whisper in bed at night so little ears can hear.
- Give them as much information as they need.During your discussion with your children, make sure you let them know the general details of your move, including where, when, why and how. If they want to know more, they'll ask. Too many details may overwhelm them. Give them time to absorb the news before you start giving them too much information.
- The meeting is about them.Give them time to absorb the news and to ask questions if they choose to. Answer the questions honestly. If you are unsure of an answer, tell them that. Let them know that you want them to tell you how they feel, what they think and what they expect will happen. Open up the discussion and allow for dialogue amongst all family members. If needed, take turns speaking. Just make sure that everyone has a chance to voice their opinion, including the very smallest family members. Don't allow the oldest children to steer the discussion, although they are looked up to by younger members, try to allow everyone some time.
- Reassure them. Tell your children that you're all in this together, that the move will be something that they all work together for, that you'll need their help. Let them know that if they are worried or angry or frustrated, you will help them through it.
- Be positive. Tell your children the good things that will come from this move, and why it will be better for the entire family. Give them the advantages to moving. Be positive, but also realistic. Don't make promises you can't keep and don't exaggerate just to generate excitement. Be honest.
- Set regular meeting dates. It's a very busy time, I know, but after the initial meeting setting regular meeting dates will give your children a routine, knowing they'll have other opportunities to talk and ask questions. As time progresses, these meetings can be used to update everyone on what's happening with the move, to provide more details and eventually, assign tasks. This regular dialogue will also encourage open communication, letting children know that they are part of this important event.