Change can be difficult for most people, we don’t like to get into the shower and we do not like getting out. Moving is a time of many change and often is also a time where stress is acutely felt. Most of you reading this are likely familiar with moving and feel like pseudo professionals by now. As many of you know, this is typically complicated by moving with children, while pregnant and/or without a spouse present. These situations are none too rare and further complicates this arduous endeavor causing much stress, tension and grief. Below are some suggestions to keep in mind in order to help make the journey more meaningful for all and hopefully reduce some of the stress.
Allow your children to take ownership in the move. Allow them areas of control where possible such as, room selection, paint colors, packing, being involved in the planning where age appropriate. Be careful not to overwhelm them with too many details, just enough to ease their anxieties and allow for open communication.
Familiarize yourself with the destination. Go online with your child and look up the webpage of the new city, familiarize yourself with landmarks and items there. Zoom in to street view to the place you will be staying at, even if it’s temporary while permanent lodging is being established. Look up the school they will be attending and find their teacher’s profiles if possible. Use the internet to get them excited for the new city and familiar with some future surroundings.
Practice good communication skills. During a move, there is much to be excited about and much to feel a loss over as cherished items and places are left behind in pursuit of the new assignment.
- Learn the stages of grief, teach them to your children and give examples as to what they might expect to think, feel and behave.
- Construct a list of coping skills for maneuvering through the grieving times. Sometimes children will not verbally communicate their feelings; instead, you will notice a change in behavior.
- Help them label the feelings that are triggering that behavior so they can better navigate through their grief. i.e., Child is displaying an unusually low frustration tolerance while playing, “Honey, you seem to be frustrated right now. Do you think you feel sad or scared about the upcoming move?”. Your child starts to complain of frequent tummy aches, “Honey, do you think you are feeling nervous about leaving your current school?”. By helping them to properly identify and express their feelings you will help them reduce the internalized cues that can bog one down and help navigate them towards acceptance.
Create a ritual that you can repeat with each move, a way to help them get closure on their current residence and free them emotionally to receive the next. Some ideas would be: a family supper where favorite memories are shared, a going away party, the creation of a memory box/book/board to access as needed, having a specific meal/treat before leaving and/or upon arrival, journaling, leaving a letter for the next family moving into your home, writing the story of your family for that chapter in your life, watching a favorite moving during packing/unpacking, sleeping in fort tents in the living room the last night so on and so forth. I’m sure you will come up with a special and brilliant way for your family to memorialize your special journey.
Make time to check in as a family and ask open-ended questions so you can better understand where your child is on their emotional journey. Remember that not all communication is spoken, just being present while your child cries or pours their heart out can be powerful. Also, don’t forget to use technology to stay in touch with friends from the previous placement, pictures, video chatting, messaging and such. These simple actions can go a long way in helping young ones transition.
Make it an adventure and get connected! Just because there is much to do doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Create a checklist scavenger hunt, plan sites to see along your move, make a list of things you plan to do in the next city/country. Your children will better be able to enjoy the transition if it’s presented as a fun activity.
Also, find an establishment in the new city where you can volunteer your time or identify a few houses of worship to visit. Those are great ways to get connected, start networking and feel at home in a new city.
Lastly, allowing extended family members to participate in the move is a terrific way to create lasting memories while shouldering the responsibilities whether it be baby wrangling, sharing in the driving responsibilities or acting as a contact person for the packers and movers. Don’t forget that older nieces and nephews on break from school might enjoy this adventure too!
I hope this article was helpful and that your next move goes smoothly! Thanks to all of the military personnel and their spouses who contributed to this article.
About the Author: Rebecca Hustad is a licensed mental health professional who practices in the twin cities in Minnesota where she resides with her husband and two children. She is the founder of Beacon Mental Health Resources where business and clinical support are provided for both mental health practitioners and mental health professionals nation wide. For more information visit her website, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org