Preparing a child for a move to a new city

May 9, 2011

QOur family will move to a new city in the next two months, but we aren’t sure how it will affect our cheerful 3-year-old. She has always loved to be around adults and to be in the middle of everything. But we are taking her from the only home she has ever known and from her grandparents and her uncle who care for her regularly.

My husband’s large family lives in our new city, and they will be helping us, too. But we’ll be a two-hour plane ride or a 14-hour drive away, so she won’t see my family that much.

The move is also somewhat complicated. I start my new, demanding job a month before my husband wraps up his old, demanding job, and we can’t decide where our daughter should stay when we’re apart. Should she be with me for two weeks and with him for two weeks? Should she stay with him for that month? Or should she stay with me the whole time?

If she stays with her daddy, she’ll be with her toys and her cat and go to her preschool and stick to her regular routine. But her father will have to do all the jobs that I’ve always done: bathing her, dressing her, feeding her and putting her to bed. Although my family will help him when I’m away, he’ll still have to do much of the tending himself.

If our daughter stays with me, I will do the tending, with the help of my in-laws, who will also help me find her new preschool. But she would be without her toys, her cat and her dad, who shines like a hero to her.


(Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

We want to do what’s best for our little girl and help her get through this complex move without making her insecure or creating behavior problems. But how?

AYou’re right to worry, because change of any sort unsettles a child, and moving is one of the biggest changes of all. The need to move is usually so inexplicable to a child.

The transition should be easier, however, if she spends the first two weeks with her dad, so you can settle into your job and find a preschool, and then spends the next two weeks with you so he can say his goodbyes without any distractions.

Your approach to the move matters most, however. There may be a few extra meltdowns, but her psyche won’t be scarred if you treat the move as an adventure rather than a scary activity, and if you remind her how much fun it will be to make new friends, attend a new school, live in a new house and get to know her dad’s family a little better. These really are gains rather than losses, for they will give her twice as many friends to like, twice as much family to love and a lot more experiences than most 3-year-olds ever get.

You also need to involve your little girl in the move as much as possible, so she knows that she is part of the team. If you give her some old shoe boxes and ask her to fold a dish towel inside each one, she can make beds for her dollies and her stuffed animals so they’ll have a comfortable snooze in the moving van. And if you give her a couple of big boxes, too, she can pack her books in one box and her toys in the other.

This enterprise will keep her busy, but don’t get mad if she folds those towels and unfolds them, packs her books and her toys and then unpacks them, and ends up leaving everything all over the floor, every day. She is, as you say, only 3.

It will keep you even busier than you already are, but please e-mail your husband pictures of your apartment and of the children in your building. If your husband prints these pictures, your daughter will study them carefully and be eager to meet the children. Familiarity breeds friendship, not contempt.

And when you do move in, set up your daughter’s room first. Then quickly create a cozy space where you can read to her and have a tea party, just as you did at your old house. And please, plant a candy tree in your yard or at your in-law’s place, and tell her that it may bloom with candy occasionally, and for no reason at all. It’s a good way to cure a sad or boring day. These lessons will teach her that home is where the heart is, which is emphasized so well in “Moving with Kids” by Lori Collins Burgan (Harvard Common Press, 2007).

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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