The Comprehensive Guide to Moving With a Child

Posted in: I'm Moving, Kids & Pets

Moving With Small Children is a Big Challenge. Here’s How to Succeed.

For such small people, children sure need a tremendous amount of stuff. They also need a lot of attention. If you are reading this, perhaps you know these things all too well!

Moving brings your child (and yes, us big people too!) a whole new world of physical and emotional needs. But while we can tell ourselves Just deal with it”, that won’t work for even a second to a young child.

Before, during, and after your move, your child will need lots of help coping with life being completely upended, so here is a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know.

PART I – Preparing Your Child Emotionally

The first thing to do is to speak positively about your move right from the get-go.

Children are experts at taking emotional cues. Looking or sounding sad (or fearful of the looming tantrum) will trigger a lot of stress in their little heads. At the same time, over-the-top enthusiasm will likely confuse your child. They will undoubtedly experience some negative emotions, so acting if those don’t or shouldn’t exist will also tie them up in knots. Acknowledge the downsides, but emphasize – early and often – the positive things you can all look forward to.

Show pictures of the new house.

And some places nearby, like parks, playgrounds and pizza parlors. Make plans to go out and explore, using Google maps and Google Earth to help make your new home come to life in their heads.

There are actually children’s books about this.

Help them understand all their complicated feelings about the move. Here are three good ones:

Mark a calendar with the move date.

Count off each day as it passes. Not with big black X’s – those are no fun and arguably intimidating. Instead, let your child put a sticker on each day that passes. Let them put extra stickers on the days they helped with the things in part two.

PART II – Preparing Your Child Physically

Ask your children what they’d like to do with the boxes.

Do this right when you get them all unpacked at your new home. Show them some possibilities like these to spark their imaginations. Then let them mark each box they think they’ll want to use – with a circle or some kind of “secret symbol” so no one forgets.

Give your child a special cardboard “treasure chest”.

This is for all the things they want to take with them on the car ride to your new home. Let them draw all over it (and the rest of their boxes too.) Just explain that whatever they take has to fit in that box. Make sure to help them with the difficult choices that are sure to come!

Protip: Your child might not even open that chest during the trip from old house to new. Just knowing all their most prized possessions are still with them (somewhere in the back of the crowded car) may be enough to keep them feeling secure. But they’ll still want something to do for however many hours (or days?) until you are in your new home and the movers show up with the rest of your world. Fill their backpack with books, paper and crayons, small toys and whatever else you or they decide would be fun to have. Don’t have a backpack yet? There may never be a better time then now.

Hire a babysitter. Multiple times.

Invite grandma over for some quality time. Have a few playdates with their friends – preferably at those friends’ homes! This not only takes their mind off the move for a while, but it takes them off your hands so you can get things done. You’ll need the time. (Trust us!)

And make sure to give them an important job for move day.

Ask them to open the door to each bedroom, bathroom and closet when it’s time to show the movers around. Tell them passing out bottles of water or paper plates for the pizza is an important job that will need to be done. Or spur their imaginations by explaining the upstairs hallway and the pathways to the front door are going to be the movers’ runways, and it would be great if they could make sure everyone keeps them clear on…

PART III – The Move Day

Assign a room or an area that is only for them.

Their bedroom is a good and obvious choice, as this might be the place they’ll feel most secure when the rest of the house is being cleared out. (Remind them not to go running out onto the runway without peeking out their door first, to make sure no “airplanes” are coming.) You also may need to rotate them out if they are the kind of child who doesn’t want to be couped up all day. (And who does?) 

Protip: You probably won’t want to add to your load right before your move, but think about getting something new for them to have with them in their private space. Something as simple (and compact) as a Nerf basketball hoop or a stuffed animal or a new DVD works great and can help keep them happy and busy, while also serving as an early start to their new life in their new home.

Keep their tummies (and their hearts) happy.

By this point, any fridge you have will be empty and defrosted. So it’s a great idea to have plenty of food and drink on hand, for move day and for the trip to your new home. But you are also going to be without a fridge and a stove for a while, which can be challenging if you don’t want your child eating Happy Meals all day. Hit the supermarket for minimum preparation food items – cereal, yogurt and fruit, sandwiches and veggies and, of course, cookies! And then get something special for dinner, like pizza. Or, okay, a Happy Meal.

Protip: Paper plates and cups are super-convenient when you are on the road, but consider bringing your child’s favorite cereal bowl, dinner plate and cup (with a spill-proof top) in the car to add a sense of comfort and continuity. Just because your child is not saying anything through their mouthful of pepperoni doesn’t mean everything’s cool in their world.

This is a big one: ask the movers to save loading your kid’s room for last.

This gives your child as much time as possible in their little private world, but it also means their things will be coming off the truck first at your new home. Imagine how happy – and important – that will make your child feel as you…

PART IV – Acclimate Them to Their New Home, Right From the Start

Make seeing your stuff again an event.

Ask your child where they think the TV should go. Help them arrange their bedroom, and talk about how they can decorate it. Imagine all the fun things you’ll be able to do in the family room, the basement and the yard. Heck, remind them that there are runways in this house too!

Put off the unpacking until you tour the neighborhood.

Take some time instead to help your child get accustomed to their new surroundings. Go for a walk together. Meet the neighbors. Find that park or playground. Get ice-cream. At the end of the day, make sure they feel safe and secure – and happy – in their new room. The rest of the house may still be a sea of cardboard and shrink-wrapped furniture, but making your child feel like they truly are at home has to be priority one.

Finally, and most importantly, remember our first point: As hectic and challenging the process of moving can be, your positive attitude will cue your child into the idea that despite the downsides, you all have plenty of positives to look forward to. And that works for adults, too.


Illustrations by Grace Murphy
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