Include kids in your plans

Under new management ... Get your kids involved in your renovations.
Under new management ... Get your kids involved in your renovations. 

HOUSE renovations can be enjoyable but also quite stressful - especially for beginners. Add children to the mix and life can get really complicated. But a complete or partial property makeover need not be at the cost of the family's wellbeing - as long as parents plan ahead and ease kids into any change.

Being realistic about what kids can cope with and what may be beyond them - which will vary depending on age - is critical during a renovation. Clinical psychologist and founder of parental community Parentsonline.com.au, Sally-Anne McCormack, says: "Some children are flexible and cope really well, while others might really struggle."

Fellow psychologist Colleen Hirst says parents should make sure rituals - such as eating an evening meal together and stories at bedtime - are maintained. "It's important to keep the core stuff the same," she says.

But kids tend to deal with change better if mum and dad are seen to be coping themselves so, where possible, children should be shielded from parental angst. But if keeping emotions in check is vital for children's wellbeing, planning ahead and establishing a solid relationship with your builder might improve a renovation's prognosis, too.

The principal at Brisbane firm Your Architect, Rebekah Hurworth, says parents should take the time, before work starts, to speak with their builder about what's important to their family life. Things such as sleeping times for young children - particularly if living on site during a build - or the times kids leave and arrive home are prudent to discuss upfront.

"You don't want children arriving home from school to have to walk around a delivery," Hurworth says.
"Most builders are happy to work around you, as long as you are happy to work around them."

Melinda Johnson was up for a house makeover challenge when buying a "renovator's delight" in Killara more than five years ago. But as the stop-start project nears completion, the 35 year old says renovations with children are not for the faint-hearted.

Johnson, with her husband, Grant, and two young sons, spent close to six years all but rebuilding their 1950s four-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage. "Hindsight is interesting," she says. "Had we had our time over again, we may not have taken on so much of the early work ourselves. It made for a long, hard project."

But the part-time speech pathologist says there are benefits to lengthy renovations. "We were able to live in the house during many different seasons and, as the kids grew, we were able to work out what we really needed to do to make the home work for our family," she says.

"Having time off or away from it [the renovation] is important for striking a balance with family life."
Although sons William, five, and Hamish, three, are used to living in the midst of a rebuild, Johnson says preparing the boys by talking them through changes, such as when a wall is to be demolished, has made adaptation easier.

"Talking to the kids in advance really helped them visualise the renovation and, importantly, it prepared them for the disruption, too," she says.