Updated on 07.07.07

Making The Moving Transition Easier On Young Children

Trent Hamm

Right now, our tiny apartment has virtually everything boxed up and ready for the move and my twenty month old son has certainly noticed this. We haven’t yet taken apart the stuff in his bedroom (the crib literally has to be dismantled before it can be moved), but he’s quite aware of big changes going on. He inspects the boxes carefully and asks about them.

The really big changes, though, are coming up for him. Next week, he’s going to go to daycare one day and when he comes out of daycare, all of his bedroom stuff (crib, changing table, rocking chair, dresser, GIANT BUBBLE GUN) will all be at the new house, in a new bedroom. At that point, he’ll likely never return to the old apartment (I can’t think of a good reason why he would).

Moving is a stressful period for mom and dad, but we also see that it’s going to be stressful on him. In order to make the transition as easy as possible for him, here are our plans:

We regularly explain the move to him. We talk about it a lot, especially to him. One of our major parenting techniques is that we talk to him most of the time as though he were an adult (obviously, sometimes you cannot do this – I typically don’t get visibly excited about the conclusion of Go, Dog! Go! with other adults, for example, and I rarely have to encourage other adults not to put their plate on their head). We talk about how big our new bedrooms are going to be, mention the “duck” bathroom (one of the bathrooms was designed with a child in mind, full of bright blues and many bright yellow ducks on the walls), and so on.

We are saving his toys until the last day to pack. We plan on literally doing this while he’s at daycare the day before we move. We’ll only leave out a small number of his most favorite toys; the rest will be packed away. This makes everything seem as normal as possible up until close to the move.

All of his stuff will be moved at once. All of the stuff he’s most familiar with will appear at the new house all at once – he’ll go into daycare one day with all of his stuff at the apartment, and come out of daycare at the end of the day with all of his stuff at the house.

We’re postponing some rites of passage until he’s comfortable at the house. For example, we had originally planned on beginning the potty training process at around eighteen months, but we postponed that until after the move so that any forward progress that had been made would not be undone by the move. Also, sometime in the next four months, he will be moving to a toddler bed, another change we agreed would be best after the move.

We’ve visited the house multiple times with him in tow. The last couple times, we even took a couple toys with us for him to play with there. He carried his favorite stuffed animal all around the house the last time we visited, so this makes his last visit to the house before the move have a sense of comfortable familiarity to it.

Remember, the happiness of your family is a key part of making a major financial decision like this work. By putting extra care into making the transition smooth for our son, it makes this transition more smooth for all of us – we can enjoy this happy moment in our lives without the stress of an upset child.

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  1. Mardee says:

    That’s great that you’ve been talking to him about it. Can I make a suggestion, though? You might want to think about actually letting him help move a few things. For example, maybe on the evening before the move, have him pack a bag or box or suitcase with his favorite toys and clothes, and then take him over to the new house and let him put them in his room. That way, he’s more a part of the process and the continuity will be a little smoother.

    I know you’ve said that he’s visited the house before, but this will actually reinforce prior visits and freshen his memory. I did this with my daughter before we moved, back when she was around 1 1/2 and she had a great time packing up a few toys and carrying them over to our new apartment. She was so excited and proud and it really made the transition a lot easier.

  2. Marc says:

    If the parents make a big deal about something, the kids will usually make a bigger deal out of it. Keep in mind that you probably don’t think you’re making a big deal out of it, but children can pick up subtle behavior changes way more than we give them credit for. We moved many times over the years with our young children (not so young anymore) and my “technique” was to make it seem as if this was just another day.

  3. paidtwice says:

    Honestly, our then 2 1/2 year old… did great with the move from small apartment to roomy house. I bet your son will love the increased space to romp in so much he won’t miss the apartment at all. Other than having trouble sleeping the very first night…. our son adapted just fine. It is good to think about ways to minimize the stress of a move but I would bet he’ll adapt even better than you think.

    Good luck!

  4. Lynn says:

    Wonderful suggestions above and KUDOS to you for not talking ‘babytalk’ to your son! I forbade anyone to talk like that to my kids (all 4 lol) and I truly believe that my kids grew up to be better spoken adults :).

  5. Excellent ideas. We’re about two weeks from moving overseas and it’s been a challenge to help to our two older ones (3.5 and 1.5) as we’ve been selling almost everything we own. We’re currently housesitting for friends and we’re all ready to just move already!!

  6. !wanda says:

    Is this really a big issue? I’m asking this out of genuine curiosity, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have kids. My parents moved from Japan to Connecticut when I was 4, encompassing several moves between continents and temporary apartments, and they don’t bother explaining stuff to children. I just remember being very, very bewildered all the time but never being upset or sad.

  7. Mark A says:

    Growing up we moved around a lot, (I’ll be at least 45 years old before I will average 1 move per year) and this is close to the approach my parents took with my brothers and I (they potty trained us as soon as possible being the difference)

    All in all, great points made here though, if your child were older I would probably add to let him decide where the furniture in his room will go.

  8. beth says:

    !wanda – I moved a fair amount as a kid and don’t remember my parents taking such pains to smooth the transition – it was just another week in the life of a military family!

    That having been said, what Trent and his wife are doing certainly won’t be bad for their son, and as Trent said, the happier/calmer you can keep a kid, the happier/calmer everyone else will be! I don’t think you need to have your own child to agree with that ;-)

  9. martha in mobile says:

    Our daughter was 18 months when we moved to a new home. She had been falling asleep on her own before the move. Not afterwards. She needed to be soothed to sleep and had frequent nightmares for quite a long time thereafter. We did work through it; it was just an unexpected consequence of the move. I don’t mean to be pessimistic for you, but sometimes even the most careful preparation does not achieve the desired result (especially where children are concerned).

  10. db says:

    Then again on the other hand children can be remarkably durable. We moved 4 times before I was 5 (military family), and I turned out ok. I don’t remember the moves, but my parents weren’t the sort to coddle me through things like moving.


  11. kim says:

    I am happy to see that you are delaying the parent imposed milestones (potty training and the big bed). Your son has two massive transitions in a short time with the move and the baby. It may take him several months to feel truly settled again after the baby. After three kids, I would also say that trying to potty train can be put off till the late 2s or early 3s. Potty training a child is SOOOO much easier than trying to encourage a child who really isn’t ready. I tried to train my twins at 20 months, 24 months, my daughter got it at about 30 months and my son at a little after 3. With my third, I waited until after her third birthday and it literally took 3 days!!!!! It was so stress (and mess) free!!!

  12. Josh says:

    For the big day when my wife and I moved to our second house with our two lil ones in tow we decided to have them stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house overnight prior and then the day of they came by to “help move” about the last hour or so. At the very end all of our adult help was very respectful and gave us much space to say our good byes (to the house). We had spent a significant amount of cash and sweat equity re-doing/rehabing, conceived both of the lil ones while living there, and spent 9 years making great memories despite it not being our dream house or town. We took both of them, 4 and 2 at the time, we said “good-bye” to each room and we remembered a couple memories on purpose for each room. In the beginning, our oldest was a little teary eyed(ok, we were too) but then towards the end it had become sort of a game. None the less, we thought it was a great way to transition. We do a drive by when we’re back visiting friends once in awhile because they remember and ask us to. The drive by’s remind us of our tough financial decisions like sweat equity vs. a Harley-Davidson and the huge blessing we have of our new to us home. Hope this helps! Good luck with your move and BE SAFE!!

  13. vh says:

    > Moving is FUN for a little kid. It’s Mom & Dad who have to do all the work for the Great Adventure.

    Our family lived overseas all the time I was growing up, & we moved several times during my childhood & adolescence. There being no such thing as day care centers back in the Dark Ages, when Mom & Dad moved, the kidlet moved with them. I loved moving–especially loved that echoey, caverney sound of our voices when everything was taken off the walls and emptied out of the old house (now it makes me weepy! Is it because I know I have to haul all the junk to the new shack, clean the place from stem to stern before unpacking, pony up some unholy amount of cash to repair the first 15 of the 87 gerjillion surprise fixes, and then find places to put the stuff I should’ve yard-saled or thrown out?)

    Let the kids pack and carry some of their toys and put them away in the new room. Would you like to be yanked out of your bedroom one morning and deposited in a strange new room that evening, without so much as a word to say about it? Let them enjoy the only time during their lives when moving really is a grand adventure.

  14. Anna says:

    My daughter has had more moves than she had birthdays. I am starting to think that she thinks some one waves a wand and everything is packed and ready to go to the new house.

  15. PJ says:

    I’m not sure about the delaying thing; in fact, I could see arguments for going the other way and making some of those transitions *earlier* – at the same time you move into the new place. Since there’s no routine at the new place, you have to reestablish one anyway, so it might as well be the upgraded one. OTOH, I can see how the continuity of a new routine similar to the old one might be comforting. Either way, I agree with the posters above who think that moving might be a bit bewildering, but not necessarily upsetting.

  16. RK says:

    I agree with Mardee (first poster), let him help. He may be confused that this all happened while he was at day care, maybe more than a little. If he’s part of the process and the actual move it will be more real to him. It’s great that you talk to him as an adult but he may not understand what happened even though you have told him.

    Of course, no matter what, he’s going to be a bit disoriented by the move.

    Good Luck.

  17. brent says:

    “I agree with Mardee (first poster), let him help. ”


  18. Noelle says:

    “I typically don’t get visibly excited about the conclusion of Go, Dog! Go! with other adults”

    Thank you, Trent. I laughed out loud when I read this. I’m adding this moment to my happiness list from the day before. :~)


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