"Children pick up on and share their parent’s emotions. If parents feel optimistic and enthusiastic about a move, then the chances are that their children will share that enthusiasm and optimism, even though they may have sad and angry feelings as well."

Moving

Whether Some adults and children like the adventure of a new home right from the start. Others take longer to adjust. Moving can be especially hard for young children. They consider their home and the things around them as part of them. For young children, "my" is "me," so they feel very much attached to their bed, the window in the bedroom, even the stairs. When families move, children can feel like part of themselves is left behind.

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Lots of Feelings about Moving

Some parents are reluctant to bring up anything negative about a move, thinking that if they don't mention how sad it is to leave, the children won't feel sad. But it's natural to have some sad feelings about a move. If we talk only about the exciting things and not at all about the sad ones, children may think there's something wrong with them for feeling sad. But if we let them know it's okay to feel sad and happy about the same thing, they're likely to find some of the happy things about the move.

One time when our family had to move, I told out sons that so man people have felt two ways about the same thing (happy and sad) that there was a word for it in our language. The word is “ambivalent.” The boys latched onto that word and made it theirs! “I really feel ambivalent about this move, “ they’d often say --like a code--which, of course, meant, “I don’t feel all good about it, but I don’t feel all bad about it either.”

Children can also be mad about all the changes. In fact, anger is a natural reaction to loss. It’s important that we do what we can to help them find constructive ways to deal with their anger by encouraging them to use words, pound play clay or make up a song or dance. As with other angry times, we can let them know that it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt themselves or others. Such limits can be comforting to children. If you don’t allow them to hurt anyone else, they’ll come to understand that you won’t let anyone else hurt them either.

Understanding Temporary Setbacks

When children feel the normal stress of moving, one of the most common ways they react is by regressing – becoming more dependent, clingy, and whiny, sucking their thumbs and crying. They often lose abilities they've just acquired, like toilet training or sleeping through the night. Regression is their way of showing us they want to go back to a safer and more comfortable time. Usually the regression is just a temporary setback until the new place feels like home.

Stressful for Parents, Too

On any list of “stresses” in adult life, you'll find moving very near the top. There's so much to do! And so much to feel! Even if there are some exciting things about going to a new home, there's almost always some ambivalence.

Even though parents may have sad and angry feelings, if they feel somewhat optimistic about a move, chances are that their children will share in their enthusiasm. Of course, we shouldn’t hide our true feelings from our children by pretending to feel something we don’t. One of the most important, helpful things we can do if we're angry or sad, is to let our children know that they are not the cause of our anger or sadness. They need to know that they are loved, and that together the whole family can try to make the best of the move.

Knowing that they “belong” and that their parents are counting on them during any time of transition can be an enormous boost to their growing sense of self. Over time, everyone in the family comes to terms with the move in his or her own way, at his or her own pace.

  • Children may have many misconceptions about what goes to the new home and what doesn't. Some children think that important things like the bathtub and sink go to the new home! When you talk about the things that will go and the things that will stay, you might want to tell your child about the fixtures (like a bathtub and a sink) that will be waiting for them in the new place. Also reassure them that the things you do take along will be carefully packed in boxes for the trip.
  • If you can, visit the new home with your child. If you can't, try to show your child some photographs. Talk about where the furniture will fit in the new rooms.
  • Help your child pack a separate box or bag of special toys or clothes to take with you in the car or plane. Then your child can be really sure those things will not be left behind.
  • Talk about what to expect on moving day. Encourage your child to play about moving. An empty box or toy truck can be a pretend moving truck. When children play, they're in charge of what happens. Playing also gives them a chance to rehearse some of their feelings about the move. This kind of activity can be as helpful after the move, too. While adults use words to talk about what's stressful, children are much more likely to express their feelings through their play.
  • Where possible, let your child decide some things for his or her bedroom, like what color to paint the room or where to put the bed or bookshelves, what color to paint the room. Even small decisions, like where to put certain toys or a poster, can be important to a child. It can help children feel more secure if you set up their room first.
  • Give your child easy things to unpack and put away. Children like to feel important and helpful.
  • In the midst of all the hectic work of moving, it can be hard to find fun things to do with your child. Here are some easy ideas: have a picnic on a blanket in an empty room; pack a meal in a lunch box; make a cozy corner with a blanket or sleeping bag for rest time.
  • Help your child stay in touch with old friends by sending drawings, writing letters, e-mailing, or making phone calls. From time to time, your child might appreciate looking back at photos of people, places, and things from the old neighborhood. You might want to make a special photo album or scrapbook for your child.
  • Let your child know that neighbors may come around to see who's moving in. The arrival of a moving truck in a neighborhood usually attracts families with children. Everyone wants to see who the new neighbors are -- "maybe there's a friend for me!" You might want to have a box of cookies or pretzels on hand to offer to visitors. Hospitality goes a long way towards making friends.
  • Visit places in your community where families gather, like the library or a playground, to help your child find playmates. New friends can make a new place feel like fun.

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