Both of our recent moves were corporate relocations, which means we were lucky enough to be provided with a packing service. We still had to do some purging and organizing, but at least we didn't have to actually acquire, fill, label, and tape the boxes. Even so, moving is stressful for everyone, especially a long-distance move to a new and unfamiliar place. This most recent move, we didn't even see the house we were moving into until we actually arrived here!
Here are some of my thoughts and bits of advice on long-distance (or short-distance!) moves with children.
Small children may wonder where their stuff is going and if they're going to see it again. Make sure that you keep your child's lovey and a few favorite books and small toys out so that there is something familiar among the chaos. For verbal children, especially preschool-aged ones, explain that their clothes and toys are going into the boxes, but that those boxes are going to arrive at the new house and they'll get to unpack and use their things again.
School-aged children will worry about attending a new school and making new friends. We were fortunate to move in the summer, so my kids don't have the disruption of changing schools in the middle of a school year. They have not expressed a great deal of concern over starting at a new school, but school hasn't started yet. I am nervous for them - especially for my oldest, who will be going into fourth grade. I signed them up for a couple of weeks of summer camp in our new town in the hopes that they'd get to meet some kids their age who live locally, and hopefully some who will be at their new school. It was also an opportunity for me to meet some of the local parents!
Babies and toddlers will adjust the fastest. My youngest didn't much care where he was sleeping as long as he had his familiar blankets, and as long as I nursed him down in his new room. He even got a new bed when we got to our new house. Our only concern with the youngest was that we moved from a one-story house (where he'd been born) to a two-story house, and we wanted to make sure he'd get used to climbing up and down the stairs. It took him a couple of weeks to become comfortable with the steps, but he goes up and down like a pro now. He has enjoyed exploring his new digs.
Maintain your family routines as much as possible. A new house means a new way of life no matter how you slice it, but the basic structure of your day can still stay the same. Children are comforted by keeping to a familiar schedule. They like to know what's coming next. Anything you can do to keep their days as familiar as possible will help them adjust.
DON'T PACK THE LOVEY. I put that in all caps because it's so, so important. If your young child has a favorite blankie or stuffed animal or toy that he or she uses as a transitional or comfort object, make sure it stays near them! When they get to their new room, having their lovey there to sleep with will help them become used to the idea that this place is now their home.
Give fair warning of the move. We decided to make the move quite a while before we told our kids. We spent a long time discussing when was the right moment to tell them. We wanted to give them enough time to ask us questions about the new area, to solidify the idea of the move in their minds, and to let the shock wear off a little, but we didn't want them to be worrying about it for weeks and months either. We ended up telling them about a month and a half before we were scheduled to move. This gave them a chance to say goodbye to friends at school, have some last play dates, look at pictures of the new house, and talk about what we'd be doing during the summer.
Reassure them that you'll be staying for a while. It took my almost-four-year-old a while to understand that this is his new home. We stayed for a couple of nights in two hotels before moving in, which may have been confusing for him. After moving in, he asked repeatedly when we were going back to the hotel, or back to our house, and I had to explain, gently, several times, that we were living here now, that this is our new house, and that we aren't going back to the other house.
Find lots of positive things to talk about. For myself as much as for the kids, I spent a lot of time listing the things that would be better or easier or more fun in the new location. At the same time, I acknowledged the things we would miss about our old town. Validate their feelings. There will be a mix of excitement and nerves, sadness about leaving friends but a little bit of the thrill of adventure all mixed up. It's okay to be sad. Yes, you'll miss your friends. I'm sad, too. I'm going to miss a lot of things about this place. But think of all the neat things about our new city! I was able to list many positives about the move, which helped all of us get used to the idea. We were fortunate to be moving closer to several family members the kids enjoy seeing, so we could talk about how they'd get to see these family members more often, for example.
Be honest. Our kids wanted to know why we were moving. We told them, to their level, the reasons. There were several factors that went into the decision, and they didn't need to know the entire decision tree, but they deserved to know that we had thought a lot about what we wanted to do. We uprooted them as much as we uprooted ourselves, and it was important to me that they understand that Mommy and Daddy made the decision we thought was best for the whole family.
Follow their lead. All kids are different, and some may have a great deal of trouble with the change while others will embrace it head-on. Don't make worries where none exist, but don't downplay the genuine emotions they have. If you can reflect and acknowledge what your child is actually feeling, they will feel more secure in knowing that you truly understand what's going on in their heads, and you can help them work through those complicated emotions.
Find some new favorite places. We immediately located and went to some favorite chain restaurants and new-to-us stores. We went to the grocery store, toured the neighborhood, and perused Google Maps for places we specifically wanted to go. This helped establish this new city as our home base right away.
Be kind to yourself. You will be under a great deal of stress. Go easy on yourself, and, especially, go easy on your kids. Everyone's emotions will be running high in the days leading up to the move and for a little while until you feel settled. Own those feelings, acknowledge them within yourself, and let go as much as you can. Eat off paper plates, cook as little as possible, take a few days off from work if you can. Moving sucks. There's no two ways about it. Don't bury the stress or you'll explode. Ask me how I know!
That's all I can think of right now. Have you made a major move with your kids? What would you add to this list?