Are you considering a move? Do you have young children? Moving can be a big decision for anyone, but especially parents! We moved from Los Angeles to Seattle last August (2016) when my daughter was almost two and a half years old. It was not a completely seamless process, to say the least.
Yes, children are resilient. Yes, children are adaptable. Yes, children often do better than adults with change.
In our situation, it took my daughter (Kaia) about three or four months to fully acclimate to her new surroundings and settle into a comfortable routine. The greatest takeaway or lesson I learned from the entire move is to have patience and to not push too hard. Adapting to a new home didn’t happen in a linear fashion for Kaia (or for me). Often times it was two steps forward, one step back. I read somewhere that it takes up to six months for children to adapt to new surroundings. Moving can be tough on everyone. Allowing time and creating space for progression and regression is important.
There were a couple of major challenges that made the move harder for us. First, her age. She was too young to truly understand what was happening, but old enough that she was aware of everything that was going on. We talked about where, when and why we were moving. We tried to familiarize her with what would soon happen, but it was an abstract concept for her. She had nothing to compare it to her in her mind, and that made it confusing and difficult for her to understand. We were relocating for a new job, and we had weeks (rather than months) to prepare for the move. We also lived pretty much next door to my mom in L.A. She was/is a very strong presence in my daughter’s life. To have her and everyone familiar to her there one day and gone the next was a VERY hard concept for Kaia to understand. Where did everyone go? I think she felt some betrayal and anger at the thought that her loved ones abandoned her.
The other major challenge was that we stayed in a hotel in Seattle for two weeks before moving into our new place. That was beyond our control, but living out of suitcases for all of those days wreaked havoc on Kaia’s sleep and caused a lot of meltdowns. I talk a bit more about Kaia’s sleep disruptions below. See #5.
Here are five things that really helped with Kaia’s transition.
1) Read books about moving. We read books about moving. We read them morning, noon, and night (before and after the move) and talked about the characters. I think this helped her better understand the concept of a group of strangers coming into the house to take boxes of our stuff (a.k.a. movers) and load them on a big truck. They also addressed the apprehension of arriving in a new place and feeling scared and alone.
Llama Llama Misses Mama (Not a moving book, but this was a recommendation from my friend, Colleen, and it helped tremendously with the transition to preschool or a new school! This book is magic. Thank you, C!)
2) Use a map as a visual aid. This was a recommendation from a therapist. We were moving out of state, but that meant absolutely nothing to a two and a half year old. I bought a magnetic puzzle map of the United States to physically show her where California (where we used to live) is and where Washington (where we currently live) is. We talked a lot about how we took an airplane to get from CA to WA and that grandma, grandpa, uncles, etc. would need to take an airplane to visit us. Each time relatives visit us or we go back down to L.A. we emphasize the plane trip and the distance between states.
I bought our map at Lakeshore and can’t find it online. Here is one from Melissa and Doug that is very similar.
3) Use a wall calendar to count down the days until trips home or time with loved ones. We bought a big wall calendar and wrote when my brother would be visiting us. We moved in August and he was visiting in September. The wall calendar was another recommendation from a therapist. It wasn’t terribly helpful to us because Kaia was so young when we moved. She had fun tearing the calendar off the wall, and using the dry erase pens to color all over the place. However, I feel like it would be really helpful and exciting for older children or those that have a decent grasp on dates and times.
4) Try to find familiar classes that they participated in back home. This saved us during those first few months in our new home! Kaia had been in a MyGym class in LA since she was about 14 months old. We were lucky that there was a MyGym location in WA near our new place. She felt safe when we were at gym (even though there were new faces) and talked about gym a lot. Maybe it isn’t gym class. Maybe it’s an art class or a mom/tot class or even a local MOMS Club group that will remind you and your child of home.
I enrolled Kaia in a couple of classes (gym and a tot class) right when landed in our new home. I think it benefited both of us to have a routine and places to be on a daily basis. We didn’t know anyone, and I needed to be proactive in order to get us acclimated to our new neighborhood. I am the first to admit I am terrible at meeting new mom friends. Through participation in classes, we have met many acquaintances and a few friends!
5) Make up their new room in a similar manner to their old room. When we moved, one of the first things I noticed with Kaia were sleep disruptions. There was a two week gap between when we moved out of our old place and when we actually slept in our new home. We were in a hotel for the interim, and it really really messed up all things sleep-related. I don’t recommend it! Kaia was sleeping through the night without a problem before we moved. We would place her in her crib and she would fall asleep on her own. After the move, she refused to fall asleep alone and would wake up crying a few times per night.
Moving is probably not a good time to transition your toddler into a different bed; or take away their paci; or institute any changes on top of the big change that is already occurring. I personally think setting up her new room much like her old room helped. Her room was the first room in the house to get unpacked and settled. She had all of her creature comforts – sound machine, sheets, stuffed animals and toys. We did our best to stick to our normal bedtime routine – bath, books, and in bed at the same time every night. I think it immediately provided the continuity she needed to feel safe. And a well slept toddler is the key to most good things in life, right?
For more stories and experiences about moms moving, check out my Instagram @lessthandomesticgoddess and look for the photo of my daughter in a doughnut costume. 🙂