As anyone who knows us knows, we’ve had pretty much one thing on our minds lately: Moving. And not just moving down the block, across town, or to another part of our area, but out of state. Across a state, even. To New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s a massive undertaking and a huge source of stress for us all, in spite of the benefits of a new job, new town, etc. My husband and I can see past the problems of today and focus on the rewards of next week, and how much we look forward to a fresh start. But our four year old can’t. Shelby’s not yet developed the coping skills or understanding that she needs to really grasp all that moving entails, and how to deal with the bevy of emotions she’s experiencing. I know she’s happy about moving, because she tells me so. She’s been before, bought toys and treats there and done interesting things. I also know that she’s stressed, but not because she’s voiced her concerns, but because she’s begun wetting the bed frequently, something she hasn’t done in a long time. Children her age don’t know how to put stress into words, so it manifests itself into actions, behaviors and bad habits either new or resurfaced. It’s important to tune into your child and observe how they are coping with all that is going on, and see what you can do to help.
It’s well known that moving, as all major lifestyle changes, can take a huge toll on children. How can you help your child adjust to the move itself and their new home?
Before/During The Move:
Keep things as normal as possible around the house- routines, meals, bedtimes, etc. This makes children feel secure.
Be patient. Everyone is going through this, and your appreciate it when others are patient with you in times of stress.
Help your child label their feelings. Beyond the usual happy/sad, angry/hurt labeling you often do, help them understand that what they’re feeling may be excited, anxious, nervous, hopeful or lonely. Explain in age-appropriate terms what these things mean and give examples.
Use pictures, toys or books to help your child visualize themselves in their new surroundings. This helps them realize that the new destination is a real place, and can make it seem less scary as they become more familiar.
Make sure they know that you’re all going together (unless the move is due to a divorce or other similar situation). That their toys, clothes and other things will be there as well.
Talk to them often about how exciting a new place can be, but don’t get too much into all the details, you don’t want to overload their little mind.
Say goodbye to the house together before walking out the door for the last time.
After The Move:
Keep things like they were back home as much as possible. As mentioned above, kids love routine. Try to fix some of their favorite meals, make sure their favorite bedding is unpacked as soon as possible, etc. It’s all about making their home seem familiar as opposed to stark and new.
Keep them busy. I know you’ve got a lot on your own plate trying to get things settled, but keep in mind that a bored child can be an unhappy child. Take time to color, play, go for a walk, or do something fun together. The best thing would be to find a park, library or museum somewhere so that you can both be entertained and get to know your new community.
Help them deal with the absence of friends and family by having them write a letter or e-mail (with your help, of course), or make a picture to send to the folks back home. Join a playgroup to help them make new friends.
Be patient after the move as well. It can take several weeks for your child to feel at home in their new surroundings. Understand that they may long for the old days. Listen to what they have to say, and put them at ease as best you can.
The other day Shelby and I were watching TV, and she said “Mama, I don’t want to move to New Orleans anymore.” I was a bit surprised, as she’s been excited since day one. I asked her why, and she said it was because she didn’t want to have to eat bugs. I was even more surprised. After talking for a little while I realized she had seen something my husband and I were watching on TV about the new Insectarium in NOLA, where people can eat bugs in their special café. She thought that that was a common practice, and wasn’t having any of it! Sometimes our kiddoes get strange, and humorous, things in their heads. We just have to listen and understand that they see the world differently. While moving can make us just about lose our minds, we have to remember the effect it has on the little ones as well. We are our children’s best lifeline in all of life’s situations, and it’s up to us to make sure they have the information and skills to take what comes their way.
I have since reassured Shelby that no one will ever make her eat bugs, although we may one day convince her daddy to eat a cricket if we visit the Insectarium ourselves. She was down with that.
Read more from our wonderful NOLA correspondent at her blog: New in NOLA