Smart Moves Make Your Next Family Move a Smooth One

by Kali Hawlk | August 16, 2018

Tasha, her husband Joseph and their four children moved seven times in eight years.

They hopscotched across the country, from New York to Connecticut to Texas. They then landed in Philadelphia, PA, before finally settling in Washington, DC, as the couple’s careers grew and expanded. Tasha, founder of the blog One Big Happy Life, would never deny that relocation can present challenges, especially with children. But for their family, relocation helped them get out of their comfort zone, teaching them to explore exciting new places.

“Focusing on the new opportunities and adventures to be had in the new place really helps kids warm up to the idea of moving,” Tasha explains.

Sound easier said than done? You might be surprised. Understanding how other families have taken the relocation leap just might help make your own move feel more like an adventure and less like a free fall.

Breaking the move news

When talking with your kids about the move, share information openly and honestly. Explain the practical reasons why the family is making the transition, but also focus on the perks.

“When we moved to Philadelphia, we talked about how cool it would be for [my oldest daughter] Alexis to be able to take the train into the city and meet us after work for dinner,” Tasha says. “When we lived in the suburbs, she wasn't able to enjoy that kind of freedom, and she was excited to have that responsibility.”

If your child still has a specific fear or concern about the move, simply sitting down and talking it through can make a world of difference.

“With all of our moves, Alexis knew early on when we were considering moving,” Tasha shares. “We had her be a part of the house hunt, and she traveled with us when we went to scope out new neighborhoods in different cities. Kids feel empowered when they have a say in where they’re going to be moving.”

Planning ahead

Beyond the physical strain of packing boxes and hauling gear, a move can take an emotional toll, too. But with some planning — and lots of room for discussion — there are ways to make for less heavy lifting on all levels.

Consider the timing

Flexibility is not always in the cards, but if possible, aim to move over the summer or an extended school break, rather than during the middle of the school year. It’s less disruptive and allows for an adjustment period, helping your kids get used to big changes in a slower, more bite-sized manner.

Keep kids informed and involved

Don’t assume your kids understand what’s happening. Take the time to explain what the move means, even if it seems obvious to you. “Your child may worry that she won't get to keep her bed or her toys or her beloved pet,” points out Ali Wenzke, author of The Art of Happy Moving. “Additionally, one of the hardest parts about moving for kids is the lack of control they feel,” says Wenzke. She suggests allowing kids more control in the process by asking for their opinions and taking their input seriously. Decisions built from consensus give kids a reason to “buy-in” and own their part in the move.

mother and child looking out french door windows

Visit your new hometown

Plan a family trip to check out your new town and neighborhood. See the sights. Research the history. Scout out parks and other places to play. Schedule tours of the local schools your kids might attend so they can become familiar with them, and maybe even meet some teachers. “It can help kids start forming positive memories of their new home,” Tasha explains.

Immerse yourselves in the culture

Is your new town famous for a particular cuisine? Pick out a recipe to make with your children as a celebratory pre-move meal. If a movie was filmed there, watch it together. If there’s a sports team in the area, jump on the bandwagon and find a reason to cheer.

Get involved in your new community

Make connections with neighbors and local families as soon as possible — even before you arrive. Find some things you’re excited to try in the new place, like a workout class or a park to explore. Sign up for parents’ groups online, join community organizations, and get on mailing lists for local businesses and recreation centers.

kids in backseat in carseats

Smooth out the move

Once moving day finally arrives, keep the fun and sense of adventure going by avoiding unnecessary stress. If you have a big drive ahead of you, don’t try to do everything in one day. Take the scenic route and enjoy a mini-getaway.

Also, it may be a strategic move to let your normal household rules go out the window for a few days. In the long run, a few missed chores or bedtimes will be a small price to pay for the peace that comes from allowing your child the space to engage with the changes they’re experiencing.

Once you’ve reached your new home, make relaxation and recovery a top priority. “After the move, we usually camp out in the living room as a family for a few days as we get the other rooms unpacked,” Tasha says. “It's fun having movie nights on the floor with popcorn and pizza!”

Keeping up with old traditions in new spaces will help kids adjust and settle in, too.

Keeping up with old traditions in new spaces will help kids adjust and settle in.
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Prioritize friendships

It’s not always easy to meet new people, so — to whatever extent you can — help your kids find their new friend group. Encourage them to join clubs or sports that match their interests.

That said, try to maintain old ties as well. Keep up with cherished friends via phone, social media or email. If possible, invite them to stay at your new home.

Blogger Carolyn Fogg and her family relocated from New York, NY, to Boston, MA, when her husband got a new job — an exciting opportunity with one snag: The couple’s 3-year-old daughter felt very settled and comfortable among her friends at daycare.

“She mentioned her old friends often and talked about how much she missed them,” Fogg says. “We made it a point to stay in touch with the kids from her old daycare by sending letters and postcards. The letters in the mail were a wonderful surprise for her and brought a little piece of home as she started her new daycare and made new friends there.”

As much as your kids will benefit from making new friends as they settle in, the same applies to you. The relocation will be easier for you, too, once you find neighbors, fellow parents or co-workers whom you connect with and who can introduce you to local spots around your new town.

mother and child playing with masks

You don’t need to fix things — just listen

If your kids struggle with any part of your move, it might be tempting to rush in and fix whatever problem you know you can easily solve. But parenting expert Kate Orsen explains this isn’t necessarily the right action to take.

Orsen – author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children – explains that kids might have meltdowns over seemingly small things as a way to process larger feelings about the transition. “During these moments, you may not want to try and fix anything or try and reason them out of their feelings,” Orsen says, “but to simply listen, empathize and offer hugs.”

She goes on to explain that by listening rather than interfering, you allow your kids to fully process how they feel — and to begin healing from any negative experiences. And she reminds parents that what your children may proclaim when he or she is deeply emotional isn’t necessarily true.

“They may say that they don't want to move or hate the idea, but as they process their feelings they can come around to the idea, let go of fear and embrace a new beginning with confidence,” Orsen says.

mother and daughter doing laundry

Don’t neglect your own needs

Although it may sound counterintuitive, taking care of yourself can actually help you take care of your kids during a relocation. How you handle a move and react to the new community has a huge impact on how your kids will feel.

“Something that surprised me was how in-tune my daughter was to my energy and thoughts,” Fogg says. “If I said something negative or stressed about the move, she would later repeat what I said and would believe my feelings to be her feelings. I quickly realized that talking positively about the big changes made her feel better about things.”

Of course, it’s tough to put on a happy face if you’re feeling down. Ask your partner for support or call on other family members and friends who may be able to step in when you need back-up.

Tapping a few good friends to bring easy home-cooked freezer meals for your family to eat on the last few nights in your old home, for example, could be a welcome and meaningful pick-me-up. Or have a family member travel with you to help everyone settle in, or to babysit for a few hours so you can tick things off your list (or just have a break).

Taking care of yourself can actually help you take care of your kids during a relocation.
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Situations and needs are diverse, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for a smooth transition. But chances are, that comforting piece of advice you’ve given to your child or spouse will probably benefit you as well — so be sure to heed it too.

Kali Hawlk

is from Boston and covers finance, travel and business on her blog