It is a truth universally acknowledged that selling your house, followed closely by the subsequent move, can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. Factor in a relocation that is also far from everything a child holds familiar and it can take a huge emotional toll on all concerned. Yet while adults are often very resilient when it comes to this process, embracing change does not always come easily for children.
Abi Gold, a qualified counsellor who runs a successful family and parenting consultancy business, Juggle, and Marie Hirst, a clinical psychologist and national coordinator for KidsMatter Starting School program at the Australian Psychological Society have helped compile seven top tips for a smooth move.
Breaking the news
There is no easy way to tell a child that the place they've called home is going to be sold, and that they will be moving on. But both Hirst and Gold have great advice on how to best approach this delicate situation.
"Choose a time when your child is feeling calm and relaxed. Let them know that you have something important you would like to talk to them about," Hirst recommends. "Stay calm and tell them the news and answer any questions honestly." And if you don't know the answer be upfront about that too, something Gold concurs with.
"Make sure there is no room for doubt. Make it clear that it's a positive move, that you are doing it as a family, and that it might be a bit scary or sad at first, but that those emotions are okay," she says. "Sell it as an adventure, highlight the bits they'll really like, like having a cubby house or a pool, but don't expect them to be thrilled straight away. It may take time."
Managing your own emotions at such a potentially uncertain time for children is also crucial, as well as your sense of optimism.
"Talk positively about the changes ahead and help your child understand what to expect," Hirst says. "Being open and receptive to how your child is feeling as well as providing comfort and attention when needed will help to support them through the changes."
Involvement is essential
Hirst says parents should consider how well their children have coped with change in the past to ascertain what their best level of involvement should be. But no matter whether they have a high or low tolerance, there is always a way to include them.
"A simple way could be to ask them what they like best about their current house and what things are important to them in a new house." Hirst suggests.
Gold agrees with this age appropriate sense of inclusion, saying this will help them feel most comfortable about the changes ahead.
"Involve them as much as you can, given their ages," she says. "This is their life, and they need to feel as though they have some sort of control."
Encourage hands on help too - packing a box of their most treasured belongings not only gives them a sense of responsibility but also inclusion in the process.
"Give them jobs, and let them take ownership of their new home," Gold advocates. “Make their space really theirs. It may be their sanctuary for a while, the place they can be themself and feel most confident and safe while they transitions securely into the new surroundings.”
Give them something to get excited about
We all need something to look forward to – especially children! Gold suggests you Google the place you are relocating to so that their enthusiasm for the change can blossom.
“Look at pictures of where you will live, the playgrounds, the parks, the beach, the new school,” she recommends. “Talk about what you see, about the fun you will have there, and tell them interesting things about the places."
Gold also proposes writing a list of things the children want to do after arriving at the new destination. And while you will be surrounded by boxes and probably unable to find the fry-pan, treat this as a sacred vow so the kids feel both important and excited. This was something she implemented herself when they relocated interstate. “By the time we got there, we were in adventure mode, and the kids couldn’t wait to get out there and discover their new environment.”
Maintain normal transmission
It’s a well-documented fact that children thrive on routine, so Gold counsels that this is crucial to uphold even while you are amidst the chaos of open houses, packing and when you arrive at your new residence.
“A sense of predictability can help them to feel secure, so stick to your usual routines as much as possible”. This includes mealtimes, bedtimes and any other regular occurrences in the day.
Expect tears and fears
Parents, be warned - both before and after the relocation expect an artillery of emotions to be unleashed. The best way to combat it? Kindness.
"They may need some extra nurturing and understanding to help them feel secure and confident," Hirst offers, cautioning parents to be on guard for behaviour that is at odds with their usual disposition . "Young children in particular can find it difficult to tell us how they are feeling so they might show us through a range of behaviours – such as being quieter than usual, being upset or having more tantrums than would usually be the case.
“Parents can help by trying to work out what feelings are lying behind the behaviour,” Hirst says, suggesting that parents put aside some one-on-one time which might assist them to express their feelings about the move. "Finding time during a shared activity will help your child to feel relaxed and comfortable to open up during a conversation with you. Once you know how your child is feeling it can help you work out how to support them, emotionally and practically.”
"Expect some bad dreams, refusal to go to bed, tears, clinginess, lots of questions or withdrawal, and attention seeking behaviours,” adds Gold, all of which, in moderation, are normal in the face of such major change and should settle as the family adjusts to its new environment.
Make sure their social life doesn't suffer
“Kids need playmates,” Gold says adamantly. Schools, the park and the beach are often fertile ground for friend making and the more relaxed you are about this situation, the less nervous they will be to initiate the process. “Make as many play dates as you can for them, encourage them to play with other kids, and make it your goal to make sure they feel socially nourished and confident."
Of course, every child’s social skills differ, so Gold warns for some it may take more time.
“Don’t expect miracles overnight, especially if they are timid, but do encourage them to be brave and to tell you when they're feeling sad or lonely.”
For many, moving also equates to a new school. If this is the scenario for your child, Hirst recommends taking a trip to the school grounds to breed some familiarity.
“Arrange a visit together so they can get a sense of where they will be going and what it will be like,” she says. Even exploring the playground can be enough to foster a connection.
Communication is key
Children are naturally inquisitive, so expect to be inundated with inquiries on how the whole buying, selling and moving process will affect them.
“Answer any questions honestly,” Hirst counsels, even if you don’t have the answer they seek. “Be open about it and perhaps suggest you try to find out together.”
"You might explain that your current house will be sold to another family who will take good care of it and then talk about some of the things you can both look forward to in your new home," Hirst adds, as a way of assuaging uncertainty. "If you child becomes upset, acknowledge how they feel, and let them know it’s okay to feel sad or perhaps angry."
Gold backs this up, encouraging children to feel safe to express their emotions, both good and bad.
"Validate their concerns and let them know that you are a bit worried, scared or nervous too." Explain that this is a natural response to change and it will help quell their overall concern.
Gold also has this warning. "Don’t keep them in the dark, or they may come to think that moving is something to dread or that they can’t talk about,” she says, adding, "and avoid using words like 'leaving behind', instead focus on the future and the adventure of the move."
Hirst offers a final piece of advice for the juggernaut of emotions that comes with selling, buying and moving house for kids: “Follow your child’s lead; if they are excited share that excitement with them, if they need comfort, spend some special time together.” And ultimately, tell yourself this: in 12 months time all of this upheaval will be a distant memory. As long as you communicate and provide comfort when necessary, your child will survive and thrive this life changing experience.
For more information of Juggle, go to familyjuggle.com.au
For more information on Kids Matter go to www.kidsmatter.edu.au