Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Preparing kids for the move

I have a two year old and a three year old.

Thus far, they have been unfailing excited about the upcoming move, even though it has involved giving away their trampoline, throwing out three tricycles (who needs five bikes for two kids? After all, they can only ride one at once. It was getting crazy.) and leaving the schools they love and their first real self-chosen friends.

So how did we do it? How have we kept the whole thing positive? Here are my tips and tricks:

Start early. Many guides advise keeping the information about the move to from the children until just a few weeks before. I wholeheartedly disagree -- this is not the kind of thing to spring on your family. We began talking about the move about six months ago. There is a lot of administrative work to be done to move a whole family to a different state, especially when that move is being arranged through work, and all their additional layers of bureaucracy. This meant plenty of discussion between my husband and I, and if we hadn't introduced the idea to the children early on, they would have figured something was up and possibly worried unnecessarily.

Use props and play. When we first started talking about the move, I made the girls a book. It was just paper stapled together, and drawn with markers and crayons, and was very quick and simple to put together.  It used the girls names, and outlined what would happen during the move in story format. You know, the usual:
"Once upon a time there where two little girls called Peanut and Bug, who lived in a big house with their Mummy and Daddy and dogs and fish. One day, Daddy's job moved to Sydney, and so the whole family decided to move too. 
Removalists came to the house and packed everything that Peanut and Bug and Mummy and Daddy owned into boxes, then put them in a big truck. Then Mummy and Daddy and Peanut and Bug and the dogs and fish got into their cars, and followed the big truck on a long drive to Sydney. They were lucky and stayed the night in a fancy hotel. 
Then the next day the removalists unpacked all their things in the new house. Because Peanut and Bug were such a big help during the move, they were allowed to sleep in the same bedroom at their lovely new house!"
Then we brought out the Tonka trucks, and the girls spent the morning packing the dolls house into the truck and moving it around the playroom.

The story, written with their names in, and then the concrete modelling of the move really helped their understanding, and allowed me to identify and clear up any misconceptions they may have had about the move.

Show them the new house. This is easy if you are moving locally, but we're moving interstate. So when Dad went to the open house he took plenty of photos. We added these to the real estate agent photos, and regularly scroll through these on the computer. We have shown the girls their new room, their bathroom and the courtyard. They know the new house has stairs, and that we won't be able to play on the grass-out-the-front anymore, as there isn't any - it's a road. All these things help to manage expectations, and they feel familiar with the property before they have even set foot in the place. I also talk up the positives: "Look, this garden bed is empty, will you help me to choose the flowers for it? We can plant them together." and "Wow, that looks like a great corner for your art table! What do you think?"

We've also been cruising the neighbourhood on Google Street View finding the best route to the library, pointing out the new sushi shop and looking at the supermarket where we've ordered the Christmas ham. The girls are excited to arrive and see it all in person! (I don't know how I'm going to explain the shop-with-the-pole-dancing-ladies-painted on though - small steps. I keep having reminders that we're moving to the middle of a proper big city.)

Find them matching activities. Peanut currently does playschool and swimming lessons, so I have placed a great deal of importance on finding her matching activities in our new location. She will still be attending a preschool two days a week, and she will swim too. But we are adding dancing lessons as a reaction to living in a small house, much further from our local park - there will be limited space to groove in the house, and she does love an exuberant, flinging boogie. (Different to flinging boogers, thank goodness. That's the two year old's domain.)

Introduce the new school early. To ease nerves (hers and mine) I dragged the whole family on a six hour round trip to attend Peanut's new school's open day. This allowed her to meet her new teachers, find her way around the playground and classrooms, find and use the toilet (more important that you might imagine - that can be a real source of concern to young kids!) and feel happy and confident about the new school situation. Then, and I think this is vital, she could go back to her old school and tell her current teachers all about it. This allowed them to make all the usual positive mumbles (from trusted adults that aren't a parental unit, and are seen as school experts) about how good it sounds, and how much fun she will have, and how excited they are for her, which really reinforced the message.

Talk talk talk. Every evening I ask the girls if they have any questions. These have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (no, we aren't taking the toilet... yes, we have to take the dog.) but it keeps the communication channels open. I must have run through the timeline for the move a thousand times if I have done it once. (Tuesday pack, Wednesday put-it-in-the-truck, Thursday drive, Friday unpack... then Christmas! Yay!) I figure the more we talk, the more they know... and knowledge, in this case, is reassuring.

So that, for what it's worth, are my tips on a happy move with young children. I have two very excited  girls just waiting for the big truck here, happy to discard their trampoline to make it happen, so it's working well for us. I'm off to clean the blinds before we move... until next time!


  1. It sounds like you are all ready and have prepared the move well. I still have one here that looks back and wishes every day that he could go back to his white house and to the playground with one of his little friends.
    He hasn't really settled here, where the other has thrived and done very well.
    Moving with kids and removing them from what they know and there friends will be one of the hardest things you will have to do.
    I always make a little folder with the house plan, map, things to do etc for the kids to have. I put it all together in a display folder and they can look at it 1000 times a day if they need to. Good luck on Friday.

    1. A has done incredibly well! Poor B though :( you can never really go back In life though, can you. Even if you return geographically, life has continued to flow on in your absence. It's a tough lesson to learn, and one I'm still struggling with.
      I love the idea of a totally accessible folder, that's really wise!