How to help your child cope with moving anxiety

Dec 4, 20235 minutes read time

Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully

Key points:

  • Moving can be stressful for children. The experience can make them feel anxious or unsure about the future.
  • With enough time and support, most kids will adjust to a move.
  • There are steps you can take before, during and after the move to help them cope.

Whether moving across town or across the country, making a new home can bring big challenges for you and your kids – and big feelings. But there are steps you can take before, during and after the move to help your children adjust.

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How does moving affect kids?

Most families will move homes at some point in their lives. Census data shows around 1 in 8 people move every year in the US, with a similar number changing homes each year in Australia. The numbers are slightly lower for families in Canada and the UK.

Chances are, you and your family will experience a move at some point in your life – and while moving is hard for everyone, it can be especially hard for kids.

Why is moving so stressful for kids?

Moving can contribute to increased anxiety in kids. Most kids see their home as their ultimate “safe space.” It’s where everything is familiar, where they can be fully themselves. Moving takes that away – at least for a little while. It can make kids feel anxious or unsure about the future, and it often disrupts familiar routines that provide a sense of stability.

How does moving affect a child’s mental health?

Most kids will adjust to a move, given enough time and support. But there’s some evidence that moving frequently – for example, more than once a year – increases the risk to a child’s mental and emotional well-being, even much later in life. However, it’s not entirely clear whether moving is the primary cause or simply a sign of other issues in a family’s life.

How long does it take for kids to adjust to moving?

Don’t be surprised if your child experiences more emotional outbursts or behavioral issues for a few  weeks (or months) before and after the move. In fact, it can take up to a year or more for kids to fully adjust to their new home.

The good news is, for most kids the impact is temporary. They will adapt – and there’s plenty you can do to help smooth the transition.

Child with moving anxiety crying.

Preparing kids before the big move

There are several things you can do before moving day to emotionally prepare your child:

Involve your child as much as possible

Start talking about the move early, before you list your house for sale or start packing. The idea is to give them time to prepare before there are any noticeable changes.

When you tell them about the move, share as much of the ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘what’ as you can:

  • Where you’re moving
  • When you’ll move
  • What will change
  • What will stay the same

It’s important to be realistic, though. Don’t make promises you can’t keep about what won’t change. Stick to what you know for sure, and be specific – for example, how their bedtime routine will be the same at the new house.

Don’t limit it to just one conversation either. Keep talking about moving the family so your child can get used to the idea. Finally, make sure they know it’s ok to ask questions. When they do, answer as simply (and honestly) as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s ok to say so.

Validate their feelings about the move

It’s normal for kids to have lots of different (and sometimes conflicting) emotions about moving, including:

  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Nervousness
  • Curiosity
  • Confusion
  • Sadness
  • Anger

Make sure they know it’s ok to feel whatever they feel. Try not to be defensive if they react negatively or have a hard time accepting the move. It’s neutral for kids to feel upset or grieve the loss of a home that feels familiar and safe.

Introduce your child to your new home before the move

Visit your new home in person, if possible. While you’re there, you can:

  • Walk through the new house together. Show them which room will be theirs. Talk about what furniture will go where. Help your child envision themselves in the new home before moving day.
  • Explore the neighborhood together. Check out the local library. Find the nearest playground. Explore other fun things to do in the area – doing so can help a strange new place start to feel like home.
  • Check out their new school together. If moving means changing schools for your child, pay a visit to their new school. Meet some of their teachers, if possible. This can help reduce some of the anxiety they feel on their first day. If you have some flexibility over your moving schedule, try timing it to happen before the start of a new school year. That way, your child won’t be the only new face – which can make adjusting to a new school less overwhelming.

If visiting your new home isn’t an option, either because of time or distance, check out the real estate listing online or find the property on Google Maps. Take a virtual tour of the new house together.

Help your child say goodbye to some of their favorite people and places

Pay a visit to some of your neighbors. Take a picture of your child with their friends. If they’re old enough, connect them with their friends on email or a messaging app so they can use their screen time to stay in touch after the move.

Shortly before moving day, you can also take one last trip to their favorite spots together – for example, a nearby playground or a beloved pizza place.

Include your child in moving decisions where possible

If they’re old enough, assign them simple tasks to help get ready for the move. For example, you could ask them to pack their toys in a box. (Be sure to leave out any favorite toys or stuffed animals they’ll want to have with them on moving day – more on this in a bit.)

You could also invite their input on plans for the new house – for example, where to put the couch or what color to paint their room.

Create a ‘go with me’ box

Have your child set aside two or three cherished stuffed animals, toys, or books they can take with them on moving day instead of packing into the truck. Having something familiar close at hand will ease the transition – and help avoid any worries over a favorite item getting lost in the move.

A dad and daughter on plane flying to their new home.

Helping your child cope during the move

In all likelihood, moving day will be an emotional roller coaster – for you and your child. But there are steps you can take to make the ride a little smoother.

Set realistic expectations for moving day

Once you get to your new home, you’ll be itching to get everything unpacked. Let’s be honest: that’s not going to happen on day one – and it shouldn’t be your top priority.

It’s important to make sure your child doesn’t feel overlooked in the chaos of the move. Try to plan time for breaks, extra hugs and affirmation in between all the unpacking.

Call for reinforcements

If you’re not moving far, or if you have friends or family where you’re relocating, ask for help on moving day. You can use the extra support to take some of the load off your shoulders – so you can give your child some focused attention.

Say goodbye to your old home

Before you leave for the last time, go through the house and say goodbye, one room at a time. Take a moment with your child to share some of your favorite memories from each room.

You could also have your child take a token or memento to remember the old house – for example, a rock or small plant from the backyard.

On moving day, set up your child’s room first

Pulling this off will take a little advance planning. Be sure to pack your child’s stuff on the moving truck last so you can unload it first when you arrive at the new house.

Set up their furniture, unpack their favorite toys, and maybe even hang some pictures on the wall before you move on to the rest of the house. While you may (understandably) be itching to get settled in, starting with your child’s room will give them a sense of comfort and familiarity in the new place.

End the day by doing something fun and relaxing together

Don’t spend all night unpacking. Take a moment at the end of the day for some family time. You could visit a local restaurant or get takeout and eat on the living room floor together. Or you could watch a favorite movie together, even if it means huddling around a laptop because the TV isn’t set up yet.

Helping your child adjust after the move

Adjusting to a new home is a process that continues long after moving day has come and gone. Here are some tips to help your child feel more and more at home.

Be available

They might feel vulnerable and overwhelmed for a while after the move. This is 100% normal. To help your child cope, plan on spending some extra time together. Even a few minutes a day of undivided attention from you can make a difference.

Reestablish their routine as quickly as possible after the move

Remember, kids thrive on routine. Some disruption is unavoidable during a move. But by easing them back into familiar patterns, you’ll help create a sense of continuity for them.

Try to be as consistent as possible with the following routines after moving:

  • Family meals
  • Homework time
  • Bedtime

Enroll your child in some extracurricular activities

If they had a favorite sport or activity at their old home, try to find similar opportunities where you live now. Not only can this help ease the transition for your child, it can give them a chance to meet new friends.

Encourage your child to stay in touch with friends from your old home

Assuming they’re old enough, let them use Messenger Kids or other kid-friendly messaging apps to talk to old friends and neighbors. If moving meant leaving grandparents or other loved ones behind, arrange regular video chats to help them keep in contact.

Signs your child is struggling to adjust after moving to a new home

Again, it can take  a year or more for your child to fully adjust to a new home. Your child may need extra support during the transition  if they show some or all of the following signs:

  • Acting out more frequently
  • Clinging to you more than is normal for them
  • Withdrawing from favourite activities
  • Regressing – for example, they’re wetting the bed or waking up at night after passing these child development milestones
  • Complaining about physical ailments that have no obvious cause – for example: ‘My head hurts’ or ‘My tummy hurts.’

Remember: if you’re worried about your child’s well-being after a move, you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out the help of a counsellor or therapist.

Bottom line: moving can be a stressful experience for children. But with the right love and support – and plenty of affirmation before, during and after – you can help your child navigate the transition like a pro.

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