Moving house…with children
Our family has a pastime of ‘looking at houses’ – a phrase that, for our children at least, conjures up hideous visions of hours of boredom in the car – each house inspected holding the potential to uproot everything they hold near and dear. Not that we have moved often mind you. Just three times in fourteen years – but apparently that’s enough to give a child a deep seated sense of insecurity about their place in the world.
They say that moving house is right up there with death and divorce when it comes to stress levels. Children old enough to identify with their own space, particularly their bedroom, have difficulty visualising another haven they can call their own. That, coupled with the fact that they most likely think that all their worldly possessions will be left behind, can make moving house stressful for all.
The trick is to remain positive. You may be upsizing your home or land, moving to a better area or moving as a result of a job transfer or promotion. That can be exciting, but depending on their age, children may have mixed feelings, especially about leaving their friends at school or in the neighbourhood.
Every step of the way, explain what is happening, why you are moving, where you are going and what they can do to help. Be honest. Use age appropriate language and listen to them if they want to talk about their feelings. Then they will feel as though they are a part of it.
Involve your children by taking them with you as you go house hunting. Once you've found your dream home, let them talk about how their belongings will fit their new bedroom and help them to imagine how they might decorate them.
Research and explore the local surroundings and check out the parks, pools and community facilities. If you are moving from the city to the country or vice versa, tell your children as much as possible about what to expect from their new environment. The more they know what to expect the more confident and optimistic they will be.
Whatever the reason for the move, moving represents a big challenge for all members of the family. Emotional fatigue and confusion can cause emotions to run high and tempers to run short. Some other ideas for making the transition as smooth as possible for your children include:
- play pretend moves with young children with dolls, boxes and a truck or wagon so they can get a feeling for the concept of moving through play
- take the time to make a last visit to places your family is particularly fond of
- encourage children to swap addresses with their friends. If practical, allow them to have their old friends visit them at the new home. A telephone call to an old friend is a low-cost way to relieve post-move depression.
While packing and moving may represent the ideal opportunity to indulge in a spring clean and throw out all that unwanted junk, don’t be tempted to do this with your child’s belongings. Even if children agree, they may not understand that what they throw out will not be there for them when they next want it. This is particularly important with dummies or other comforters. These items help children to build a bridge between the known and the unknown, and are especially important during times of change. If the comforter is something that can’t be easily replaced, such as a much loved toy, make sure that it has a safe place for the trip where it can’t get lost.
The impact of moving away will affect children differently depending on their age. They will also express themselves in different ways. As a guide:
- Infants will probably not be affected much, providing their normal routine is not greatly disrupted.
- Pre-schoolers may worry about being left behind especially if they see their possessions being packed away. Let them help and pay attention to them. Children who feel part of the process are more likely to look forward to the move and the unpacking of their things at the end of the journey.
- Primary school children may be excited by the move, looking forward to making new friends and experiencing new things. Their main concern will be how well they will fit into where they are going, particularly in relation to a new school environment.
- Teenagers may well be the most difficult age group to deal with the emotional upheaval of a move – particularly a move out of the area which will necessitate a change of schools. Children of this age form deep friendships that are vital as their social lives begin to overshadow the family as their source of identity. Again, be honest about the move. Help them to join youth or sporting groups in the new area and if practical, encourage them to have friends from the old area over to stay.
Moving in school holidays may seem like a good idea but this timing could prove more upsetting for children then moving during the school term. School is a major source of friendships – so moving during the holidays may see children placed in new surroundings at a time when the opportunity to make new friends is at a minimum.
A move during the school year will see your child go from one social setting directly into another. The children are new so their classmates, and their teacher, will pay attention to them.
If you are moving away from the area an important ritual to arrange for older children is a ‘going away party’. Children need a structured way to say goodbye to their friends and to arrange for future contact through the swapping of addresses (including email addresses).
A fun idea is to arrange a teddy bear or t-shirt for your child’s friends to write or draw on – and remember to take lots of photos.
What about you?
If there’s a chance that you will arrive at your new home before the removalists you should be prepared with a ‘survival kit’ to see you through at least 24 hours. Pack these items separately to keep you going until the rest arrives:
For the kitchen pack a complete place setting per person (fork, spoon, knife, plate, bowl, mug), one pot and one pan, a wooden spoon, sharp knife, can/bottle opener and corkscrew, coffee/teabags/jug, salt, pepper and tomato sauce, plastic food storage bags (for leftovers), serviettes or a tea towel and soap, kitchen sponge and dishcloth.
After a long day of travelling, treat yourself to dinner out or take-away. Then buy a few groceries on your way to back to your new home to see you through the following day. Include staples such as cereal, bread, fruit, milk and toilet paper. Make sure you have prescription and over-the-counter medicine with you as well as toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, soap and a hairbrush, comb and dryer.
Children need their own survival kit – include a change of clothes, toiletries, games, toys, books, CDs and for the baby, a complete weekend nappy bag.
Don’t try to get everything done the moment you arrive. As soon as the major unpacking is done, take a break with the family. Spend time with your children to make sure they are settled and comfortable.
The first few nights in a new home may be frightening and it will take time for them to get used to the configuration of their new rooms and other differences such as noises, light and shadows. Be patient. And be aware of signs of distress.
Younger children may revert to baby behaviour. Provide plenty of reassuring cuddles and consult your doctor if any unusual behaviour continues, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness and constipation.
Tips for Moving House
One week before you move:
- return anything you have borrowed, eg library books and collect anything you may have lent to others
- pay any outstanding bills
- cancel milk and newspaper deliveries
- organise final readings for water, gas and electricity and organise the disconnection of your phone
- list the everyday items you will need before and during your move. Put these items aside so that they are not accidentally packed
- check your garden shed, under the house and attic to sort out what you want to take with you, and dispose of any poisons or flammable liquids
- make sure your real estate agent has provided you with all the keys to your new home
Two days before you move:
- arrange for your valuables (legal documents, jewellery, money etc) to be moved separately
- arrange for an electrician to disconnect any special light fittings you have arranged to take with you
- wash and dry all dirty clothes
- drain fuel from your lawn mower, whipper snipper, chain saw and other machinery
- tightly seal all jars, bottles and cans – pack in waterproof containers or plastic bags.
- take down curtains or blinds that you have arranged to take with you.
- remove all food from the fridge and freezer. Defrost and clean. Check with the manufacturer whether the motor needs to be bolted down for transport and arrange for this if necessary.
The Day Before
- wash and dry all dishes for packing
- clean out your medicine cabinet and take all unwanted drugs to your chemist for disposal
- check all your drawers and remove any heavy items, liquids or breakables
- disconnect your washing machine from the water supply
- make sure your removalist is aware of what their responsibilities will be
- if possible, organise someone to be at each end when the removalist team arrives to pack and unpack
- tell the removal team which items you will need first so they pack these things last
- don’t overpack boxes, especially with books, as they are difficult for even the strongest removalist to lift
- make sure you have appropriate insurance in place
- turn off all taps, check that the gas and electrical switches are turn off and that your phone has been disconnected
- make a final check of all cupboards and storage areas to ensure that nothing has been left behind
- lock all windows and doors
When you Get There
- connect the electricity, gas, water and telephone
- check the locks, burglar and smoke alarms as soon as possible
- ensure your house and garden are child-safe, eg pool fencing, lockable cupboards for medicines and chemicals etc.
- change the locks
Who to Notify About Your Move
- ATO (within 7 days)
- Roads and Transport Authority for license and registration
- Government departments re family allowance etc.
- Insurance companies (life, home and contents, motor vehicle etc)
- Employers (group certificates, superannuation)
- Australia Post (mail can be redirected for up to 12 months)
- Telstra – phone services
- Automobile associations, eg NRMA, RACV etc.
- Telephone, water, gas and electricity companies
- Rental and hire purchase companies
- Banks and financial institutions
- Doctor, dentist, private health funds
- Electoral rolls (within 4 weeks)
- Subscriptions, eg magazines, wine club, book club etc.
By Monique Webber
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, June 2004. Updated July 2009.