House moving is an intensive physical and emotional experience for most of us... and that's when we grownups are in-charge of the situation and have some inkling of what to expect. For our young children, it can seem like an awfully big transition that completely falls out of the loci of their control.
To look at it from their perspective...
Imagine how you'll feel to see the home you've known your whole life being taken apart and packed in boxes.
Been given instructions - "place this into the box", "get into the car", "let's go" - throughout the day.
Parents around but not present as they hustle about getting stuff done.
Being told an unfamiliar house is now your new home.
Going to sleep and waking up in a totally new environment.
Not knowing where your things are.
For toddlers who love their routines and thrive in familiarity and predictability, the experience of moving house can be very disruptive. It can feel like being uprooted from everything you once knew.
While there are surely moments of happiness and curiosity in enjoying and exploring the new house and its environment, negative emotions may set in.
If that happens, remember it is normal and perfectly okay for toddlers to feel disoriented, upset, overwhelmed, stressed or even resentful as they learn to make adjustments and internalise what has happened.
Allow them to feel these big emotions and acknowledge these physical and emotional reactions. Above all, reassure them you're there for them, and while it might feel different and challenging right now, it is okay to take time to settle in and enjoy the new home together as a family.
Managing Moving House Transition & Stress for Toddlers - 10 Montessori-inspired Ways
From the point we decided to move, we were intentional about involving our toddler every step of the way. We felt it was important to prepare her early for the transition.
It definitely paid off. The move went without a glitch or meltdown. Our toddler was cooperative during the process and positive about the experience.
Here are some Montessori-friendly ways we thought were useful to mentally prepare her for the house moving transition:
1. Involve child in new house hunting
We were careful to curate a list of houses that checked our boxes on location, budget, furnishing etc, and made sure the environment was conducive for our toddler to grow up in - family-friendly areas, close to nature/amenities etc.
We narrowed down the potential list to a handful that we'll personally visit, as excessive house-viewing can be discouraging and tiring.
We made it a point to visit a nearby park (ideally walking distance) to each potential house just to assess the neighborhood and end each house visit on a fun/positive note.
During house visits, we also observed our toddler's reactions to the surroundings. After the house visit, we asked for her appraisal/opinions regarding the house in private (away from the property agent).
Verbal and non-verbal responses told us how our child found the house, and gave us a clue on whether she would enjoy the new place.
2. Explain the move in details visually
House moving can be a rather vague and confusing term for children to understand. It is ideal to use visuals to help explain how the process would go. Be as detailed and layman as possible so they understand what to expect.
For instance, I drew a chart of how the moving out and moving in process would look like:
- Belongings and furniture would be packed into boxes
- Boxes will be taped shut
- Movers (2 men) will come to move these boxes onto their trucks
- We will return our apartment door keys to the leasing office
- We will say our goodbyes
- We will drive to our new house
- We will park our cars in a garage and go into our new house
- We will wipe down and vacuum the house
- We will unpack our 'day of' bag to use those items
- We will unpack the boxes and fill our new house with our belongings and furniture
- We will sleep in our new house every night and wake up there
- We will return to our new house everytime we go out*
*I found this important to reiterate to my toddler who started asking whether we'll be returning to our old apartment or new house for the first two weeks of moving in. I think she felt insecure about the idea that "her home" - which has been a constant in her whole life - could be made variable.
During the packing process, I invited my toddler to contribute with tasks that aligned to her interests e.g.
- Label moving boxes by drawing and tracing numbers on them
- Help tape/seal boxes
- Explore the empty boxes (cardboard tunnel)
- Climb onto sealed boxes in a safe and supervised manner (this helped to support play in a barren house in the days prior to the move)
She refused to help pack, so I also asked her for suggestions on what she would like to help out with instead. She surprised me by peeling a bowl of tangerines from her self-serve snack station and telling me those were for bringing to our new home to eat.
3. Countdown calendar
3 days prior to the move date, we did a countdown to The Big Move.
We also did the same with Christmas, via an advent calendar for Christmas.
Knowing what to expect and a daily reminder helped to get my toddler mentally prepared for The Big Move. I think that's half the battle won :)
4. Pre-empt BIG emotions
Goodbyes out of one's loci of control can evoke lots of feelings like sadness, nervousness, anger and confusion.
Watch out for triggers that might set your child off (e.g. seeing movers take away a favourite personal item) and have them avoided/done out of sight/done with your child distracted.
If your child is on the brink of a meltdown, reassure your child that big feelings are normal and accepted, and suggest tangible actions he/she can do to manage those emotions e.g. drink water, draw on a piece of paper, take 5 deep breaths.
5. Pack "day of" bag
Just like getaway bags packed in the home stretch of pregnancy, "day of" bags are really important because the move day could get more complicated and hectic than expected.
Try to pack the "day of" bag in the days prior.
Things that might be great for the "day of" bag:
- Items to engage child (e.g. coloring materials + sketch pad)
- Diapers/underwear + a change of clothes
6. Give your child a mission
We gave our toddler a balloon and her mission was to bring it to our new home.
For us, it was a sanity-saving thing because the balloon brought lots of open-ended independent play when we needed it (while talking to the movers/leasing team during move-out and cleaning the house during move-in).
For our toddler, she associated the move with fun, and was able to focus on something that was within her control.
7. Housewarming rituals
I'm not sure if other cultures have something similar but there's a Singaporean housewarming ritual of rolling a pineapple into the new home.
It symbolically means ushering fortune into the new place.
My toddler loved the pineapple rolling, and couldn't wait to eat the pineapple of course.
8. Involving toddler in practical life activities
We brought some small items over on our own like a vacuum cleaner, child-sized swiffer, wipes, cleaning vinegar and cloths. When we reached our new place before the movers, we involved our toddler in cleaning the house to help her feel involved in the process.
Moving around and helping out in the new house also helped her to familiarise herself with the surroundings.
9. Prioritise the setup of child's play space
The first box we unpacked was a marked box containing my toddler's favourite items and toys.
Having her play space set up first allowed her to "settle in" and occupied her time while we unpacked the remaining boxes.
10. Acquaint child with new neighborhood
We showed our toddler around the new neighborhood to give her a sense of the new environment, and allow her to orientate and familiarise herself.
This is also great for running into neighbors, practising grace and courtesy as well as establishing a network/rapport.
Note: Since these are covid-19 times, do follow the guidance of your local authorities with regards to social distancing. While we couldn't get to know our neighbors better, we waved to and greeted them masked which still made for a delightful (and safe) experience.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.