Moving with Kids: How to Help Children Transition

Want to make moving easier for your kids?

Kids thrive with routine and familiarity, so moving to a new home in a new state has the potential to cause stress and abnormal behavior. The good news is there are things you can do to help make moving easier for your children — from picking the right moving company to helping them decorate their new room. We’ll walk you through the steps of moving long-distance with kids, then give you some of our best tips. And to finish up, we spoke with a licensed counselor who is a former U-Pack consultant to get expert advice on moving with small kids.

Family with young son and a dog sitting among moving boxes.

 

How to relocate to another state with kids

While you’ll spend plenty of time on moving-related tasks, you’ll also want to devote some time to answering your kids’ questions and calming their fears. With these seven steps, you can help them feel better about the upcoming move:

1. Choose a moving service with your kids in mind

Figure out which moving option will work best for your family. For example, if you have young kids, a full-service mover may not be ideal because of the extended time it takes to receive your shipment. And you may not want to use a rental truck if you have kids in car seats or if you don’t want to split the family up during the drive. A moving option like U-Pack — where you get the cost-savings of packing and loading your belongings but are free to drive together in a personal vehicle — may be a better option for families. You get your items delivered right to your door quickly, so your family can get settled. Learn more about how U-Pack works.  

2. Prep them ahead of time

As soon as you have information about the move, it’s a good idea to start talking to your children. The sooner they know about what’s happening in your family, the more time they’ll have to adjust. You know your kids best, but here are some things to keep in mind depending on their age:

  • Babies: Infants are in a group all their own since they depend on you for everything. Use this guide for specifics if you’re moving with a baby.
  • Toddlers: Explain what’s happening as best as you can. It might be helpful to use media for support. Check out the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood movie, “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor,” or the Sesame Street episode, “The Big Moving Adventure” to help them see what a move is all about.
  • Preschoolers: Concrete visuals can be important for preschool-aged children. Have lots of visuals ready for them, like pictures of the new house or a map to show them where you are and where you’re moving.
  • Young kids: This group may have the easiest time with the move since they have encountered many new things recently (starting schools and beginning with sports teams, for example). Be prepared to answer lots of questions as you discuss the upcoming move.
  • Preteens: Their social circle can be critical at this age, so they may be upset to leave their friends and teams. After you talk to them, you may need to give them space to process those feelings.
  • Teenagers: Teens can likely handle being involved from the beginning. For example, have them tour new houses with you so they feel like they have some control.

3. Involve them in the process

Because many things will be outside your child’s control, letting them have a say in some decisions can be really helpful. Get their opinion on things like which room they want in the new house or who they want to tell about the move first.
Age-appropriate tasks can also help them be a part of the relocation process. Ask toddlers to hand you books and toys while you pack them in boxes, have older kids sort through their belongings to decide what to take, and ask everyone to help with other small tasks along the way. Even simple things like vacuuming an empty room, labeling boxes or putting garage sale stickers on items you’re selling can help kids feel in control.

4. Figure out how they can stay connected to friends and family

Talk with your kids and find out who they want to keep in touch with after the move. Make plans to call, video chat, write letters or visit once you’re settled. There may also be special people they want to see one last time (but won’t necessarily need to stay in contact with), like teachers or coaches. Try and contact them before you leave town.

5. Help them say goodbye

Depending on your child, they might be content with a quick “Goodbye house!” while others may be more sentimental.

  • Toddlers can understand goodbyes, even if they don’t understand the permanency of the move. With kids this age, it can be helpful to say goodbye to the home and the things in it, sort of like in the book “Goodnight Moon.” 
  • School-aged children may want to take pictures or videos of the home before heading out so they can remember and stay connected to it. Some kids may even want to collect a leaf or something special from the backyard as a tangible reminder of the home.

6. Make the drive fun

The long drive to the new house can be the best part! As you plan your route, find parks or things to see along the way. Use these tips to turn your move into a fun family road trip.

7. Allow them to personalize their new space

If possible, let your child decide how they want their new room to look. Talk to them about themes, colors or design elements they would like in the new space. Let them choose where furniture and belongings go if they’re big enough to help while you unload and unpack.

Tips for moving with kids

These tips will help you make the most of the steps above.

  • Use boxes and packing materials to occupy little kids while you pack. Toddlers and young children will love being able to decorate a box.
  • School-aged kids may think moving tasks are boring, but an incentive can help. Give them a paying job, like feeding and walking the pets while you’re loading. Or pay them a quarter for every box they pack.
  • Make a bucket list of fun things to do after you move. Either research the town online together or get a book from the library and let your family plan some fun things to do in the future.
  • If you need help with your kids on moving day, schedule a sitter ahead of time.
  • Don’t forget to enroll them in their new school and have records sent over.
  • Use books to help kids of every age understand what’s happening and how to process their emotions.

Books about moving for kids

Grab one of these from the library or bookstore:

Toddlers

  • The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day – Stan and Jan Berenstain 
  • Bad Bye, Good Bye – Deborah Underwood and Jonathan Bean 
  • Moving to the Neighborhood – Alexandra Cassel and Jason Fruchter 
  • We’re Moving – Heather Mainser

School-aged kids

  • When You Are Brave – Pat Zietlow Miller 
  • Hey, New Kid! – Betsy Duffey 
  • The Emotions’: Survival Guide – Walt Disney Company 
  • Moving to Bigcityopolis – Derek L. Polen

Teens

  • 10 Dos and Don’ts When You’re the New Kid – J.C. Tilton 
  • The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Teens – Sara Elizabeth Boehm 
  • The Year My Life Went Down the Loo – Katie Maxwell 
  • How to Make Friends: For Teens – Jennifer Love

Q&A about relocating with children with a licensed mental health counselor

Cydney McClain, LMHC, spent years as a moving consultant with U-Pack. During that time, she was also training to become a licensed mental health counselor. Since her expertise overlaps between moving and handling stress and emotions, we asked her some of your most common questions about moving with children.

How can I help my child adjust to moving?

Moving, even under the best of situations, can be difficult, stressful and complicated. It is important you, as the parent, allow yourself the time to process. Then make a plan on how and when to share the information with a child/children about the move. They need to feel like they are a part of the process.

Validate their feelings and let them know it is a big move for you, yet emphasize that they are safe, and as the changes with the move come about, you are there with each step.

As best as you can, keep the routine the same. Of course, as the move begins, that is not always possible.

Finally, do your best to set expectations for the move. Also, make space for times when their emotions may run high as the move date gets closer.

What if our family moves a lot?  

If this isn’t your first move, you may be wondering whether moving often is bad for kids. Most children adjust easily, especially if you’ve helped them through the transition. However, if they’ve lived in the same place for a while and are established with friends and community, a big move may disrupt their “normal.”

Checking in periodically with your kids before, during and after the move is key in letting them know you’re there for them during this big life change. If the impact is extreme to the extent that they need to speak to a professional, counseling would be a positive option to help them process.

What signs of stress should I watch for?

During a move, watch for:

  • Apathy
  • Withdrawing from family
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of appetite
  • Overeating
  • Sleeping more or less

What should I do if I notice my child acting differently during or after a move?

If you notice changes in your child, check in with them. Allow the space for them to process as they may not even be sure of what they are feeling. Give the child time and support to adjust to a new setting, new environment and new home.

Seek out professional help if the changes are extremely severe and last for an extended amount of time.

Do you have any other tips for moving with kids?

If you’ve found something that has helped your children adjust through moving or that made moving easier for your family, share with us in the comments!