If you’re among the 35 million people in the U.S. who will move this year, then you know: Moving to a new home is considered one of life’s most stressful events and it affects everyone in the family. But with the long list of to-do items that accompany an impending move, parents can easily forget that even young children struggle with anxiety and fear about relocating.

While moving with children under six may seem easier than uprooting older children, plenty of parents report tantrums and behavioral issues, potty training backslides, sleep regressions, and other disruptions to normal routines when a move is imminent. Here are five tips to help you make the process a little smoother for little ones.

Explain what moving means.
Whether your new home is across town or across the country, moving is a disruptive process that can include months of prep and weeks of packing. Because young kids often don’t fully understand what it means to move, packing up their things, leaving their home — likely the only home they’ve ever known — and possibly saying good-bye to close friends, caregivers, and loved ones can be scary and upsetting. Hold off on discussing the possibility of new home, but once you have made a definitive decision, it’s time to talk to the kids. Some parenting experts suggest waiting until one month before moving day, but if your move involves real estate transactions that may not be possible.

What is most important is that you help your kids understand what is going to happen. One way to do this for preschool and kindergarten-aged children is to act out the process of moving with a dollhouse. Pack dollhouse furniture in a box, move the dollhouse to a different room, and then unpack the furniture. Play this game leading up to the move as it will help your child understand that toys, furniture, and other items will move with the family to the new home.

Get to know your new home.
If possible, give your child the opportunity to get comfortable with his new surroundings in advance of a move. If your new home is relatively close by, explore the neighborhood. Check out local parks, tour the school, and if it’s an option, visit the new home. Go through rec center brochures and enroll your child in a local activity — like soccer, gymnastics or day camp. That way, he will start to make friends and feel like a part of the community. If distance prohibits you from visiting your new home, spend time researching the area online or at the library with your child — anything that will make the neighborhood feel more familiar and create excitement. 

Stay positive.
Moving is never easy, and packing with kids underfoot is particularly hectic, but try your best to manage your stress in a positive way (self-care is key!) and stay positive in front of the kids. If a move is happening because of something more traumatic, such as a divorce or destructive weather event, being an emotional rock for your children when these events feel completely out of their control is critical. Focus on the exciting new things a move means (a bigger yard, a new playroom, meeting new people, exploring a new place!), while being honest that leaving your old home behind is tough.

Reading age-appropriate books about moving is good way to help explain the process to kids, validate feelings, reassure them, and get them excited about the prospect of a new home. A few good picks: Katie Moves by Liesbet Slegers for toddlers; classic favorite The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain; and Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge for preschoolers and kindergarteners.

Say good-bye to your home.
Even if a move is happening for positive reasons, it’s totally normal for young kids to be frustrated, angry and sad — feelings they may not be able to verbalize yet. Give them space to vent and understand that may mean a few tantrums or other disruptive behavior. Honor their feelings by allowing young kids to say a meaningful good-bye to their current home. Here are three ways to do this:

  1. Write a story about your home. Work with your young children to draw pictures of your home then write a story about it together. Read it together before and after the move.
  2. Throw a good-bye party. If you’re moving away from close family and friends, invite everyone over for a potluck or pizza, so your child can say good-bye.
  3. Collect meaningful items that remind your child of home. Grab a shoebox and encourage your child to fill it with items that will remind them of the old home — rocks from your garden, leaves from the local park, photos of your home and the neighborhood, and other special keepsakes.

Stick to your normal routine.
Moving equals upheaval — for weeks, sometimes months. But kids thrive on routine, and even though you want to drive through the nearest fast food joint every night for dinner and opt out of reading five bedtime stories, keeping up with normal routines will make things feel…well, normal — even if they aren’t. Remember that structure helps young children understand what to expect and what is expected of them — providing that for them during an uncertain time, both before and after the move, is vital for a smooth move.

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