Moving Home – How to Help Your Child Cope with the Move

Moving Home – How to Help Your Child Cope with the Move

26 May 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 4 mins

How difficult is it for us adults to manage change? When our favorite coffee shop sadly closes down, it takes me a while to adjust to enjoying another cafe and compare it less with my previous favorite one. I know how unfair this sounds. But it’s a transition, and as humans, we like predictability and “sameness” for most things. We might enjoy being spontaneous, but coming home to the same familiar fragrances, the same comfy furniture, and the way we arranged our bedside table help us relax and unwind at the end of each day. Imagine how difficult it must be for our children, who have lived fewer years. Everything seems more intense in a shorter life.

I grew up in South Africa, and for the first six years of my life, we lived in an “unsafe” area.

When the fireworks became louder, and my mom shared that these were gunshots, we were almost “forced” to move to a safer location. This was a massive transition for my parents, who had to find new jobs and a home for their family and us children. I had my best friend there, a regular walk to school, and played in the open field every afternoon. It felt like my world was collapsing because, in my eyes, most things I knew and grew fond of I had to leave behind.

Transitions are easier to manage when we have more experience with them. If we have moved in the past, we have something to reference back to and remind ourselves that “last time it wasn’t that bad.” If you’re moving for the first time, your child might need more support to help them cope with the change.

How to help your child cope with moving:

These strategies would also work well with other transitions, such as a new sibling, entering a new school, and getting used to a different teacher.

Preparation is key

If we prepare our children for an upcoming change, we are halfway there. Children are bright. They want to learn and might surprise us by understanding the reason for a transition. We can let our children know why a change is coming and what to expect. For example, if you are moving house, you can explain that it might be a bigger house or closer to other family members. Perhaps you are moving to be closer to your work – which your children will understand from an empathic point of view. This might allow you to spend more time playing with them after work or going on outings – which can be an excellent incentive for them to accept the upcoming change.

Visualize it and “play the script out”

When I work with adults, I use the technique “play the script out” whenever a transition occurs. You can ask your child to close their eyes and explain what they see in their new home or environment. Perhaps they see themselves playing with their new sibling and dog in a garden. If you prepare your child for what to expect, they can start “playing” in this new world. You can also use figurine play here and build the home, the new school, and the new teacher and make it fun and natural at the same time for your child. 

According to Datler et al. (2012), children transitioned easier into preschool when other transitions were present in their lives. If a child is supported with some changes, it becomes easier to manage these transitions. Which also gives us peace of mind when we introduce transitions to a new home, new school, and unplanned holidays. We are building on resilience and our child’s ability to manage their feelings with changes.

Be mindful of the impact

During the preparation and visualization phase, we should also remind ourselves that there might be a period of uncertainty during a transition. Teaching coping skills is essential here. Checking in with our feelings when discussing the upcoming transition and validating these emotions are important. When we let our children know of an upcoming change, we can ask them, “how do you feel about it” and then let them know that this feeling is valid. If they feel scared, we can give them ways to make themselves feel safe. They can take a few deep breaths, hug us, draw their feelings out, and know that their favorite toys are coming to their new home.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or breathwork, are essential to instill from a young age. I remember asking my parents if I would ever see my best friend again when we moved. They assured me that we would visit once a month and I could phone her whenever I missed her.

Moshi has excellent stories to help your child focus on the “here and now.” Try out some soothing bedtime stories (by clicking here) to focus on being mindful with your child.

Enjoy the transition, and remember to prepare yourself for the move, new child, or new school. Change can be scary for all of us – but as “they” say – “change is as good as a holiday.” Which can also be quite intense. It might be a good idea to listen to a few Moshi stories with your child and take a few deep breaths before the move.

Datler, W., Ereky-Stevens, K., Hover-Reisner, N., & Malmberg, L. E. (2012). Toddlers’ Transition to Out-Of-Home Daycare: Settling Into a New Care Environment. Infant behavior & development, 35(3), 439–451.

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental