How to Help Kids Transition When Moving to a New Home

Little girl carrying a moving box holding a lamp and plant.

Getty Images / Halfpoint Images

An estimated 13% of Americans move every year. If you are one of them, you know what a pain it can be. Between packing, traveling, and sorting through the endless sea of boxes, moving to a new home is pretty stressful.

The moving process also can cause a number of challenges for youngsters. Not only are they leaving behind their home, school, and friends, but they are also are forced outside of their comfort zone, causing them to become understandably stressed or scared. So, how can you help them make the big transition?

Here, with the help of experts, we will take a closer look at the reasons children struggle with moving and what you can do to make the process a little easier.

Why Is Moving So Hard on Kids?

Whether you are relocating 10 blocks away or 10 states away, there is an exhaustive list of things to do before the moving truck arrives—especially when you have kids involved. But helping your kids adjust should be at the top of that to-do list.

For children, moving is a sudden and difficult disruption of normalcy. The life they have become so accustomed to is taken away, which creates a lot of confusion in their young minds. It also can be hard for them to grasp the reality of what is going on, which inevitably creates problems.

"Elementary-aged kids may struggle to comprehend that things have changed," explains Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of "13 Things Strong Kids Do." "They might still expect to go to their old school or to see their friends outside even if you've moved a long way away."

Factors That Impact Children

  • Changing schools
  • Moving because of divorce
  • Leaving friends
  • Disruption in routine
  • Adjusting to a new area

Along these same lines, psychiatrist and mother of three, Carly Snyder, MD, who is the director of women’s health for Family Health Associates, points out that children also struggle to understand the reasons behind the move.

"Unlike adults, who likely chose their new location and home or at least understand the reasons for the move (like a new job, more space, or safer area), kids don’t have a say in where they live or appreciate the necessity," she says.

Moving and Depression in Children

Unfortunately, there are times when moving can cause depression in young children, especially those with a past mental illness. In fact, the stress of a move can trigger symptoms like unexplained crying, sleeping issues, headaches, and stomachaches.

You might also notice that your kids withdraw from friends and family, cling to you, lose interest in things they used to enjoy, and suffer academically. They may even express thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

If your child is struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Moving 

Before you start packing, it is helpful to have a thorough discussion with your children about moving. The key is to be open, honest, and direct and give them opportunities to share their thoughts, feelings, and apprehensions.

"Whether they really liked their bedroom or they loved having friends who lived close by, it's healthy to talk about all the things they're going to miss," says Morin. "But it's also important to talk about all the things they have to look forward to about moving."

You also want to address the mixed emotions they may be experiencing. They may be excited about the possibilities that the move brings, but also apprehensive about being the new kid or trying to make new friends.

"Reinforce that it’s OK to have a myriad of emotions about a move, from excitement to fear, anger and disappointment," says Dr. Snyder. "Encourage a child to verbalize their feelings and, as adults, it’s best to respond by asking more [questions] rather than quickly placating or minimizing their fears." 

Carly Snyder, MD

If moving is one of the top five most stressful events for adults, it’s fair to assume it is similarly difficult for kids.

— Carly Snyder, MD

Along with helping your kids manage their stress, it is also important to manage your own. One of the biggest struggles kids and teens face when moving is trying to manage their own transitions while also picking up on their parents' stress levels, says Dr. Rebecca Mannis, Ivy-Prep school founder and learning specialist with expertise in pediatric neuropsychology. 

Bottom line? Try and keep it together. Although this is sometimes easier said than done, it is important nonetheless.

"If moving is one of the top five most stressful events for adults, it’s fair to assume it is similarly difficult for kids," says Dr. Snyder.

Tips for Helping Children Adjust To Moving 

It is only natural for a child to feel sad about leaving their home. That said, there are some enjoyable ways to help your kids adjust before and after you are all settled in. Here are some creative ways you can help your kids adjust to moving.

Before the Move

Once you have had the conversation about moving, you can start preparing for the big day. For instance, you could find ways to honor the home you are leaving by taking pictures or videos or even having a going away party.

"That may mean making a scrapbook or it could involve creating a video of them saying goodbye to each room," says Morin.

You also could visit your new community—and maybe even your new home—before you move. Dr. Snyder suggests searching for some fun new restaurants, stores, and activities in the area that your child may be excited about.

"Walk around and get a feeling for the new neighborhood," she says.

While you are there, see if you can find parents from your child's new class at school, and set up a play date for when you arrive. This way, your child will have at least one familiar face on the first day.

You also can reassure your kids that they can see their old neighborhood again by planning a return trip to your old stomping grounds. Your child will have something to look forward to after the big move, and they won't be saying "goodbye" to friends, but rather "see you later."

Most importantly, make sure your child understands the entire moving process from beginning to end, Morin says.

"Tell them what to expect each step along the way," she says. "Explain how you'll be packing, who is moving their stuff, and what will happen at their new place."

After the Move

Once the moving truck is empty and your new living room is piled high with boxes, you may want to focus on getting settled. But instead of just focusing on the work that needs to be done, try to do things that help your kids ease into their new environment. For instance, you could plan something special for your first night in your new home.

"Celebrate being there even if it means ordering in and having a picnic on the floor," says Morin.

You also should frequently check in with your kids. Ask them how things are going after a big move and allow them to be negative if they need to be, says Dr. Snyder.

"It's OK if they’re not immediately happy or comfortable in the new house and school—give it time," she says. "Trying to force the positive will likely backfire. Instead, commiserate if appropriate and then talk about ways to make the new place better." 

You also can assist with the transition by keeping in touch with loved ones back home, which is vital for helping children adjust. Dr. Mannis suggests Zoom ice cream parties or bedtime stories and sending drawings or pictures. Even writing letters and sharing photos can be a fun way to stay connected.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Celebrate being there even if it means ordering in and having a picnic on the floor.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

And, if you notice that your child is struggling with adjusting to their new environment, make sure you make note of it. You can share your concerns with a healthcare provider and together come up with a plan for helping your child manage the transition.

"Keep a pad handy to jot down some of your observations or concerns, and contact a specialist if you feel your child is showing signs of significant changes in their learning, sleep patterns, or other aspects of resilience," she says.

Tips for Starting a New School

There is no doubt about it—starting a new school is scary for kids. If you are moving to a nearby area, the best option is to keep your child in the same school or stay within the same district. If it is not possible or you are moving to another community or state you will want to do what you can to help your kids walk into their first day with confidence.

One way to do that is to get a sneak peek of the school if possible. Check to see if the school offers an open-house event, or ask if you and your child can take a tour and meet the teachers. This way, they will have a better idea of what to expect.

You also should talk to your child about their concerns or expectations regarding school. Help them make a plan for anything they are worried about.

According to Dr. Mannis your kids may have both theoretical questions and practical questions. For instance, their questions may range from things like "What if the other kids are mean at recess?" to “Where will I put my stuff?"

Talk through these things with them. You can help them by role-playing different scenarios as well as brainstorming how they will address each of their concerns. Having a general idea of how to approach each scenario will go a long way in helping ease a child's worries.

Signing your child up for an extracurricular activity can help with the transition to a new school. After-school sports and other programs are a great way for kids to make friends and connect with students who share the same interests. It is much easier to find people they can relate to if they are doing something they enjoy.

Finally, make sure you take time at the end of each school day to talk to your child about how school went, what they learned, and any struggles they are facing. You can also check in with the school staff to get a better idea of how they are adjusting.

Above all else, make sure to squeeze in extra quality time with your child as much as possible. In such an emotionally chaotic time, you are the glue that holds them together, and your support is the key to a smooth transition. Try not to worry if it takes your child a little longer than you expect to adjust.

"Some kids are slow to warm up, while others can jump into a new situation and brush away their worries," says Dr. Mannis.

A Word From Verywell

Simply put, starting over in a new place is tough and every child adapts to this change in different ways. So, if your child takes time to adjust, that is OK. No matter how long it takes, it is important to remain patient, supportive, and proactive in finding the best ways to help them cope.

Focus on spending time together and checking in on how things are going every day. And, if you feel your child is not adapting well, reach out to a healthcare provider and share your concerns. Together you can come up with a plan that addresses your child's specific needs.

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  1. Joint Center For Housing Studies Of Harvard University. Who is moving and why? Seven questions about residential mobility. Updated May 4, 2020.

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