Last year our family was finally able to start hunting for our “forever home.” After renting for 14 years, we were SO excited to start looking for our own house, but also very aware of the effect moving could have on our 6-year-old son.
When my husband and I were kids we each moved. For my husband, he was carted cross-country at the age of 11, and moved BACK within the span of a year. For myself, there were 3 notable moves, 2 within 5 months of each other. Neither of us were given much information or included during the moves, and we both remember the effect that had on us.
So when it came to our family buying a house we were determined to include our son in the entire process! He came to every open house with us, we explained how mortgages worked, and we included him when we put in offers – and then, because the housing market is what it is, when our offers were rejected, we discussed that with him too. When the text came in that exciting Tuesday morning in October, we let him be the one to read out loud:
“Congratulations, you got the house!”
He immediately called up my sister to let him know how he’d like her to paint his room and he excitedly planned out what his treehouse would look like. We thought, emotionally at least, that he was doing great – until…
The Moving Meltdown
The first boxes I packed were my grandmother’s dishes out of our hutch, while he was watching a show in the other room. When he came upstairs I proudly showed him that it was all packed up…and he Freaked. Out. To me it came out of nowhere, but as he tried to unpack the boxes, he was screaming and crying and trying to take my phone so that he could “call the people and tell them we unaccept the offer.” The meltdown lasted about 25 minutes, and ended with me in tears as well. He had never expressed his emotions in this way before, so it was A LOT to process, for both of us.
I knew after this that we needed to alter our approach to the move – immediately!
We did a lot of research, consulted with other parents and family, and below is what we learned and implemented during our move to help our son process this BIG life change. Hopefully, if you and your family are also going through a big move, the below strategies will help you the way they helped us!
- We let him talk about it! Concerns, questions, anything that would be different – from our morning routine (he takes the bus now) to how the cat box would be in a different place. Talking about it, letting him vocalize his concerns, no matter how ‘small’ helped him label his emotions.
- We made a countdown chart to when we were moving – each day he crossed off a box, so he could tangibly see the days left, allowing time to process the change. For the “week of the move” he wrote down each day where he would be. While I knew that he’d be doing fun things with people who love him, seeing it written down helped him.
- Here’s a big lesson we learned after his meltdown – giving him choices! Even small choices helped him feel he had a little control in his life, when he felt like he had no control on the big things. Letting him help me choose the week’s dinners, which movie to watch Friday night, what clothes he’d wear to school (if you saw him in navy blue sweatpants and a bright orange shirt, this is why) or the books we read at night gave him a little control back.
- We tried to keep routines the same, even in the midst of changes. Morning routines, chores, bedtime routines – being consistent with structure helped create a feeling of stability.
- We read about it – Molly moves to Sesame Street, The Little Blue House – any books we were able to find on kids who moved. Many times seeing a character going through the same issues helps kids to learn they’re not the only one who’s gone through this.
- We reminded him, almost daily, that we were doing this together, that these changes were happening to us as a team, and that we were with him every step of the way.
- We talked about changes he dealt with in the past. While he can’t remember moving when he was a toddler, he did remember when our cat came to live with us, when he started school with a different class, and when Covid shut down everything. Reminding him that he was able to successfully handle those situations gave him a frame of reference that he would be able to do it again.
What we hope we’ve helped him learn during this move is that it’s ok to feel those big feelings, to get them out somewhere safe, and that we’re right there with him to help process it all when it’s over. One of the greatest things we can give to our children are ways to work through their emotions. Going through big life changes is hard for any of us, even as adults! However, giving them tools and coping strategies to help them process their emotions now can make processing them so much easier when they’re grown up.