When it comes to moving into a new home, children may feel more uncertain than excited

Melissa Kossler Dutton/Associated Press

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For children, the excitement of moving into a new home is often clouded by uncertainty. Parents can ease the transition — starting at the dinner table.

The ritual of sitting down to a family meal can help kids start to feel at home, says Nancy Darling, a psychology professor at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.

“When kids feel like everything is changing, they need that stability,” she says. “They need attention and stability.”

That may mean anything from choosing familiar paint colours in the new house to letting kids be part of decorating decisions.

Barbara Miller, an interior designer in Portland, Ore. who has moved with her children three times, painted their new rooms the same colour as their old ones.
“I try to keep things as much the same (as possible) — especially if they’re nervous,” says Miller.

Moving can be more disruptive for kids than parents realize, says Doug Tynan, a child psychologist with the Nemours Foundation in Newark, Del. Be prepared to handle tears or unusual behaviour as children adjust to their new setting, he warns.

“Don’t take it personally if they walk into a wonderful new house and burst into tears,” says Tynan, who estimates it takes five to six weeks for children to adjust to a move.

He recommends that parents talk openly with children about the move as soon as they decide it’s going to happen. “The more information the better,” he says. “Be as upfront as possible.”

Tynan, Darling and Miller offer these additional tips to help children adjust to a new home:

  • If possible, take them to the new house before the move. If they don’t have a chance to see the interior, take photos or show them the online listing. Talk about how the family will use the new spaces.
  • Let them help arrange their new space. Give kids a floor plan of their new room and let them decide where to place the furniture.
  • If their new school has a website, spend time online getting to know the building and its teachers. Arrange to visit the school in person as soon as possible.
  • Pack the kids’ rooms last so they face as little disruption as possible. Unpack their rooms first at the new house.
  • Give children a box to pack. Tell them to put their most valuable possessions in it. If possible, let them keep the box with them when travelling to the new house.
  • When you arrive, take kids on a tour. Point out the location of light switches, bathrooms and other useful details. Make sure children know how to get to their parents’ room during the night. Consider using nightlights or placing glow-in-the-dark stickers on light switches to help kids feel more comfortable.
  • Visit a playground or other neighbourhood attractions they might like. Point out positives, such as proximity to a pool, ball field or ice cream shop.
  • Sign kids up for sports teams, classes and other extracurricular activities as soon as possible. If the move occurs during the summer, try to register for a camp or class that will include local kids.

First published in the Toronto Star on August 23. 2011

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