Parental Advisory: The Big Move

We are moving with our two-year-old next month and I’m starting to panic. We’ve just gotten this routine down in his room and he’s so accustomed to this house and neighborhood. Moving is really important for our family in general – better job, bigger house etc – but I feel like we’re going to do a number on this little kid. Do you have any advice on how to ease the transition for him? I know toddlers love their routines, so I’m worried all hell will break loose once everything changes. – Packing Some Serious Baggage

Dear Packing,

Moving bites. Even when you’re moving “on up,” it’s still a huge upheaval. We feel for you with all that packing and schlepping and organizing. Not to mention the angst: Did I make the right decision? Will the new job work out? Of course some moves are easier than others, but there’s usually the potential for a little emotional drama in the dismantling and reassembling of your entire household. One college snapshot falls out of an old box and you’re on a hellish commute down memory lane. Moving has meaning for adults, with their histories and symbolic attachments to reconcile.

But your toddler?

In itself, moving to a new house isn’t going to mean much at all. His memory lane is pretty short at this point. More like a memory cul de sac with a couple of key landmarks: you and your husband. You two, and possibly some other caregivers, really constitute his sense of “home” more than anything else at this point. It is true that little kids love consistency, but they are also brilliant and constant adapters. Everything is somewhat new to a new person. He’s learning new things every day: new skills, new words, new concepts. A new house and neighborhood? It’s all just more newness. And yeah, his routine will be a little wonkier while you transition, but nowhere near the upheaval it would be if his core support system were not making the transition with him.

Since you guys are the key players in his sense of stability, your son will be looking to you to find out whether all this weirdness is anything to worry about. So it’s important for you and your husband to frame the move in a way that makes it feel very safe and normal. Try to project confidence. This can be really hard and sometimes borderline ridiculous when you’re stressed out. But you need to let him know that going through a change and coming out the other side is going to be okay. (If you repeat this internal mantra enough times, you may actually start to think it’s true yourself.)

Here are some other things you can do to help ease the change:

  • Help him feel connected to the move. When you’re packing boxes, give him a little box so he can pack some of his things. This lets him participate and might help him feel more comfortable around the mountains of boxes. And of course toddlers love putting things into containers and taking them out. When you arrive at your new house, you can give him his special box and let him take out the objects and put them in his room.

  • Ask for help when the work starts to get hardcore. We have no idea the logistics – how long you’ll be traveling, what your childcare resources are – but if you can, consider having a friendly and familiar caregiver take your son off to some fun activity once the heavy lifting has commenced. For one thing, a toddler under foot of movers is not the safest. For another, you may feel pretty stressed out at that time and it might be better to spare him the sound of your hysterical voice.

  • When you get to the new house, try to unpack those things he’s most familiar with first. So, if he has a Babar poster over his crib in the current house, get that up in the new one right away. His new room might not feel so foreign if it’s the same crib, same toys and same d’cor. His world is quite small. So look at things from that perspective.

  • See if you can get friends, family or a hired hand to help get you unpacked as soon as possible. This way you can spend time with your son exploring the cool new features of your awesome new digs. We know one mother who had her sitter bring over two friends to help unpack the kitchen, bathroom and put books on the shelves. They got the job done the first night in the new apartment, and it cost them about $150. Creative solutions to making your life easier are always good.

  • Emphasize familiarity rather than going on about the strangeness of the new place. This is your crib. Look, it’s your toys! This is mommy and daddy‘s bed. Do all your current routines: same bath time, just a different bath place.

  • In the end, we really want to reassure you that your toddler will take this all in his stride. It’s much, much easier for him than for you. You may even feel inspired as you witness his adaptation skills in full force. And when you feel particularly anxious about your son’s disruption, think about whether you’re projecting. After all, grownups love their routines too!

Have a question? Email beingpregnant@babble.com

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