Relocating to a new community can be a fun and adventurous time for you and your family. There are new places to explore and new friends to be made. With the military, you may be moving every few years. This can be tough on children – whether they are experiencing their first or their fifth move. Even though you have a lot of other things on your mind during this period, a little time from you at each step of the way can make a big difference in how well your children cope with the move and adjust to their new home. Let your children know that you see moving as an adventure for the whole family, and chances are that they will share your feelings.
During the move
Whether you're moving across the country or around the world, you can make the trip easier with a little advance planning.
- Make sure that all family members take part in the move. If you send your children to a relative's house on moving day, they may fail to grasp the reality of the move. Try to find a way for even very young children to take part in the move, even if it's just for a very short period. This will help them understand that a big change is taking place in their lives and, if they're confused, will give them a chance to ask questions.
- Keep favorite toys or belongings where children can get them during the move. After your children have packed their special travel bags or boxes, keep these in an accessible place during the move – in the car you'll drive or as carry-on luggage on the plane.
- Plan to have some new toys, games, or activities for the trip. Depending on the ages of your children and how you are traveling, these might include story tapes or CDs; books; markers and paper; a journal; a magnetic board game; binoculars; and simple "sitting still" toys like magnets, magic tricks, or dolls.
- Ask a child to play "navigator." Mark the route beforehand and let a child lead the way. Encourage all your children to help you look for landmarks that will help them get to know their new community – a park, a statue, a funny sign or billboard.
- Pack some healthy snacks to eat along the way. It can be hard to find fresh fruit, raisins, nuts, cheese, or even juice when you’re on a long trip.
- Make the trip fun. If your move involves a long car trip, plan for fun stops along the way – a visit to a museum, a theme park, or some other attraction that's on your route.
Unpacking and settling in
Unpacking and setting up your new household can be stressful for parents and children alike. Here are some things you can do to ease the tension:
- Unpack some of your children's belongings first. You will need to get the kitchen and living room set up too, but it will be easier on you in the long run if your children can be settling into their rooms at the same time.
- Unpack the TV and DVD player promptly. Unloading a moving van can take hours, so you're probably going to need more than a few toys and games to keep your children busy on moving day. If you unpack the TV and DVD player right away, they can watch their favorite movie while they're waiting for the rest of their belongings to be unloaded.
- Encourage your school-age children to unpack some of their own belongings. This can give them a sense of control over the move, especially if you let them make some decisions about how to arrange their toys or books.
- Celebrate your family's arrival. You probably won't be able to unpack in a single day. So after you've taken care of a few basics, ask your children to suggest a way to celebrate your arrival in your new home. Getting a pizza or going to a movie might reassure your children that everything won't change just because you've moved.
- Make sure your home is safe. If you have an infant or a toddler, make sure that electrical outlets are covered and that small objects are put out of reach as you unpack. Put up gates or keep doors closed at the tops and bottoms of stairways and put dangerous objects like knives away in drawers or cabinets with safety locks. As you unpack, keep safety in mind, and put dangerous chemicals in locked cabinets or up high and out of reach. Make sure that you have carbon monoxide detectors and that you replace smoke detector batteries as soon as you move in. Also, set the hot water heater at 120 to 125 degrees to avoid serious scalds from the faucet.
After the move
After you've arrived, your children may still have some big adjustments ahead of them. Here are ways to make their lives easier:
- Keep up your children's favorite rituals. Think about the things you always try to do together as a family such as reading a bedtime story, watching a favorite TV program, or making pancakes on Saturday morning. Make a special effort to keep doing these things in your new home. Keeping up family rituals can give your children a sense of comfort and security when a lot of other things in their lives are changing.
- Let your children know any rules you've made for your new home. These might include rules about streets in the neighborhood, where and when they can go outside, and what parts of the community are off limits (train tracks, highways, and so on).
- Visit your new installation. Find out what fun activities are available on your new installation. You might find a playground, a swimming pool, horseback riding stables, a youth center, or a bowling alley. The Family Support Center can answer questions about the installation and surrounding community and give you maps and other resources to help you get around and locate the activities that interest your family.
- Try to meet some families in your neighborhood. Your children probably will have an easier time if they meet one or two classmates from their new school, make friends with other children in the neighborhood, or meet other children from their child care before they start. Making friends right away can make a huge difference in how easily your children adjust to a new place. And inviting other children over gives you the chance to monitor their play, which is especially helpful when you don't yet know the children or their families well.
- Bring your children to visit their new school or child care before the first day. If you can, make arrangements to let a preschooler explore his new child care when other children aren’t there so that he can met his new caregiver, learn where things are, and see what there is to play with. Older children may be more comfortable if they know the route to the school and where they can find their classrooms, the bathrooms, the library, and the gym. See if you can introduce your children to teachers when you visit.
- Sign your children up for extracurricular activities. Right after a move is a good time to think about getting your children involved in dance classes, sports teams, scouting programs, or music or theater groups. Ask your installation's Family Support Center or other parents for information about sign-ups.
- Help your children call, write, or email old friends. They'll probably be eager to stay in touch over the first few weeks, and less so as time goes by. For school-age children, you may want to establish a "phone allowance" so that they understand the limits of time and phone bills but have the opportunity to stay in touch.
- Give your children time to adjust. It will take time for all of you to settle in and feel comfortable. It's normal for children to be moody after a move, even to have spells of unhappiness months later. Children are often nostalgic about their old home or neighborhood and may say things like, "I want to live in our old house again." These feelings are part of the process of adjustment. If you can see them in that light and not take them as criticism of the move, you'll be better able to give the reassurance and security your children need.
After you've settled in, try to keep up some links to the past as you become part of a new community. It's normal for children to take six months or more to adjust to a new home. Spend time with your children – listening, explaining, and reassuring – and the adjustment will go more smoothly for your entire family.