It’s the end of July. For a lot of medical families, that means you recently moved to a new place or are about to move soon – either for medical school, residency, fellowship, or your “It Gets Better” job.
If you moved already, you have probably already found out that your kids are not doing so well. Moving is a hard adjustment for everyone, and your kids are no exception. No matter what age they are, it is important to help kids adjust after moving.
A year ago my family moved for residency. I knew it would be hard for our almost 3 year-old because he is a guy who likes order and routine. Even simple changes in his life majorly stressed him out – like when I changed which blanket I hung over his window to block out the sun. Cue huge tantrum. So I already knew that when we moved it would be hard on him.
We moved and, like I expected, he completely changed. My happy, smiling boy completely disappeared. His smiles were just short moments in between the tantrums, whining, screaming, sleepless nights and no napping.
He pushed boundaries with me constantly. He decided that he was done napping and refused to nap. He started waking up in the middle of the night again. He had major meltdowns multiple times a day. He would say, “I want to go home!” multiple times a day and it broke my heart. I tried and tried to be positive for him, but inside I was saying, “I want to go home too!! I’m lonely and sad too. This is hard for me too.”
Also a week after we moved, we took our little family to see the Pixar movie “Inside Out.” You are probably laughing right now, right?!! I had NO idea that it was about a girl who was traumatized after moving!! And my little toddler, who is VERY perceptive when it comes to emotions, totally caught onto that fact. He was just crying little heart-wrenching sobs during some parts of that movie and it was SO SAD. I remember watching that movie thinking, “This is what we are doing to our child! His whole entire world has completely changed and it’s ruining him.”
But, thankfully, kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. Thankfully our move did not ruin my toddler. It was a hard couple of months but finally, at the end of 3 months, my REAL, sweet little boy came back to me. He went back to his mostly normal self, but a little different. There was a little stubborn streak that crept in during this time of adjustment and decided to stay. It used to drive me crazy but it does make sense. Moving is a major life change – how can it not change you somewhat?
And so, if you just barely moved or are about to move and you have kids, I feel for you. It is hard! Not only is it hard on you but it is a hard adjustment for your children. Here are a few tips to help kids adjust after moving. Don’t worry, this transition period will eventually end and your sweet kids will be back.
Being consistent is so important anyway, but especially in this time where everything has changed for your kids. New home, new bedroom, new neighborhood, new parks, new school, new friends, new church, new libraries…. Everything. When everything in their life has changed, they need your consistency to rely on as something that will not change.
Be consistent with everything. Be consistent with bedtimes, mealtimes, boundaries and discipline. Keep your familiar routines. The familiarity of your routines will help your kids feel safe in their ever-changing world.
Now being consistent is hard to do sometimes, because your kids might push their boundaries in a major way with you. My son did the same thing. Your kids will probably test their boundaries in a new environment to see how far they can go and where their limits are.
The best way to respond to this is to be upfront with your children about what consequences they can expect for certain behaviors. Then, when those behaviors happen, you come through on the discipline and be consistent with it. Let them know that yes, even in this new house, they have to listen to Mom and Dad and obey the rules.
2. Allow Them to Have Negative Emotions
Your kids just underwent a major life change, so it’s normal for them to have negative emotions. It’s normal for them to cry, throw fits, or sulk alone. Allow them to have those emotions – it’s a part of healing and adjusting.
I know when my son was going through this, sometimes I would respond with love and understanding. Sometimes I would say, “Are you sad that we left our old house and moved to this new house? I’m sad too, it’s hard to be in a new place.”
But sometimes I was just done with the whining and crying. Sometimes I remember thinking, “You should be over this already. Just stop it with the crying!!” So instead of connecting with his emotions and allowing him to go through them, I would try to ignore them with super positive comments about our house. I would point out the great things about our new house or our new backyard, or how great it is that we get to go to the beach a lot now.
But I quickly learned that it wasn’t the right time for all of that. Yes, being positive and excited about your new home is definitely helpful to your kids and they definitely need a lot of that. But don’t do it in the middle of them being sad, angry, or when they are experiencing any other negative emotion. Don’t push their emotions aside. Acknowledge their emotions. Connect with them. They will feel heard and loved this way. And then later, when they aren’t in a funk, you can take that time to point out all of the exciting things about your new house and help them see it too.
3. Expect Regression
Moving is hard for kids, no matter their age. Sometimes the stress of moving can cause regression – in other words, cause your children to forget a newly acquired skill or go backwards in their learning. You often see regression in young children, especially because they are just barely learning to control their own personal routines. It is normal for kids to regress after moving to a new home. Just like how sometimes you stop working out or start going to bed later when your schedule gets busy, your kids are also changing some of their routine to try to cope with the new stresses of moving.
So just expect it. There is really nothing you can do to prevent it. I expected regression, which is why I didn’t attempt to potty train my son until AFTER we had moved. I knew that if I tried before he would just regress and make potty training that much harder. But he regressed in other ways – like he started waking up in the middle of the night again and he completely dropped napping.
But expecting your child to regress doesn’t mean you should allow inappropriate behavior. Like if you child starts to have frequent accidents, it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it. Be clear about your expectations – that they should be going to the bathroom in the toilet, not in their underwear. You can support them with positive reinforcement, love, sticker charts and rewards or other things. Still be supportive of them, but still have expectations of them.
4. Be Positive
Children learn by example, so they will be watching you closely during this time of adjustment and change to see how you are reacting to it. If you are negative and complain about your new home or situation all of the time, your kids will pick up on that.
So walk the walk. Choose to be positive about your new home and situation. Not gonna lie, sometimes I totally faked it around my son because I was having a hard time too! I wanted to sit down and throw a temper tantrum too.
But most days I chose to put a smile on my face for my son and chose to look at the bright side of things. If you do the same your kids will learn from your example that they can overcome difficulties by staying positive.
5. Lather Them With Love
One of the best ways to help your kids when they are having a hard time is to just love them. Be overly loving. They need your love and acceptance of them right now, more than ever.
Do activities with them that mean a lot to them. If they absolutely love playing hide and seek with you, do it! And do it a lot! Or, if they love it when you paint their nails or sit down and color with them, set aside some time to do those things with them.
If you can make it work, try to have some one-on-one time with each child. Make it a mommy and son or daughter date. Let them know that they are important to you and that you are there for them during this hard transition.
Also just drown them in hugs and kisses. Young kids especially need a lot of touch to feel loved. Just give them tons of hugs and snuggles to help them feel safe and loved.
6. Do Special Activities in Your New Area
I did this so much with my son when we moved. If we had a family day at the beach, I would say things like, “This is so cool that we get to go to the beach so much now that we live in California! We didn’t get to do this in our old house.” Or, once we got Disneyland annual passes, I would say, “Look, now that we live in our new house we get to go to DISNEYLAND!”
By pointing out the new and fun things that are unique to your new area, you are letting your kids know that your new place has attractive and fun qualities about it, just like their old home. You children will learn they can STILL have fun with mom and dad in their new home.
And your special activities don’t have to be super grand or exotic. If you go to a new park that has a ride-on airplane, point it out as a super-cool new thing that is only unique to your new home. Or point out how the new story time at the library has new songs that your old story time didn’t have. Just remind your children, often, how the differences between their old home and their new home can be fun and exciting.
7. Involve Your Kids in Decision-Making
Let your kids decide some things in your new home (within reason). Have them help you set up their room and decide where furniture goes or where to put their books. You can also let them decide what changes they want, like if they want changes to their bedtime routine or what they normally eat for breakfast.
For example, my son decided that he wanted to sleep with his bedroom door open after we moved to our new home. I let him make that decision and we implemented that new change into his bedtime routine. It wasn’t a big deal to me but it meant a lot to him.
Like I said, let them decide some things within reason. They still need to have boundaries and, of course, you can’t just let them have everything they want. But having some control over some things will help them immensely when they have no control over the fact they are in a new place and a new home.
8. Be Patient
Oh this one is soooo hard but so important! Just be patient. It takes time for your kids to adjust after moving to their new normal in your new home. You may be doing everything right – trying to be positive, being consistent, lathering them with love, and it still may seem that NOTHING is working.
But I promise you, those things you are doing are helping them. You just can’t see it yet. The last key thing your kids need from you is patience. Just give them the time they need to adjust and find their new place in their new world.
Like I said, it took my son almost 3 months for him to find his new normal. I was not very patient with him sometimes, even though that’s what he needed from me. Him saying, “I want to go home!” all of the time used to drive me crazy. Because I thought it meant that nothing I was doing was helping him. But my efforts as him mom to help him transition were helping, I just couldn’t see it yet.
So hang in there. You can help your kids adjust after moving. It gets better. One day you will wake up and the fact that you guys moved will not be a problem at all.
For example, just this last week we were on vacation with DrH’s family. We were having a blast playing at the beach and spending time together. About the third day in my son turned to me and said, “When do we get to go home? Can we go home tomorrow?” It made my heart smile that my son longed for home, and that “home” for him now is our new home.