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Moving to a New City With Children

Help your child adjust to their new home by following these tips before, during, and after your move to a new city.

Default Author Icon Written by Shane Sentelle Updated 03/26/2024

Moving to a new city can be stressful, hectic, and overwhelming for anyone, but it’s especially hard on children. Adults, after all, are the ones making the decisions. They know why they’re moving and what to expect from the process, and they’re better equipped to handle any frustrations that arise.

Moving may be confusing to young children, while older children who understand what’s happening could resent leaving behind their friends and favorite places. But with patience and planning, parents can make long-distance moves a more positive experience for their kids. We’ve rounded up tips for moving to a new city with children, and your new house will feel like home all the sooner.


Before the Move

Preparing your children for the change early on will not only lighten the load for your future self but may also ease some of your own stress about relocating. Between choosing the best moving company and getting everything packed, your to-do list may already feel unmanageable, so don’t look at these tips as tasks. Instead, consider them an investment in your family’s happiness or a break from the craziness of organizing the move.

How To Announce the Move

Start by framing the move as a family adventure. Call a family meeting and make the announcement as exciting and transparent as possible. Talk about why, when, and where you are moving in age-appropriate detail. 

Give the kids a chance to process the news and react. Be prepared to answer questions, too. That might mean researching your new city and its schools beforehand. If you have already selected a home, have photos ready to show them. If not, you can get them involved in the search by showing them listings and talking through what they would like in a new home.

Be sure to tell your kids you’re moving well before they have cause to ask what’s going on. Even young kids will pick up on the behavior shifts that precede a move. If they sense something is changing, they may begin to feel anxious without knowing why.

How To Prepare Kids Emotionally

After your announcement and throughout the move, give your kids a safe space to express their feelings. Older children may feel angry and lash out, while younger children may feel scared or confused. 

Whatever your children say, remember not to take it personally. Instead, help them name and process their feelings. Here are a few tips:

  • Validate their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel how they feel. For instance, you could say something like, “It’s okay to feel [scared, sad, angry]. It’s hard to move to a new place. I feel a little [sad, nervous, scared], too.”
  • Share your own story. Tell them about a time when you moved. Talk about how you felt at first and how you felt a few months later.
  • Help toddlers feel secure. Toddlers may not be able to articulate their feelings, but that doesn’t mean they are unaffected. You can reassure them by making time for extra cuddles, one-on-one play, and your normal routines.
  • Explain moving to preschoolers. Look for a book or an episode of your preschooler’s favorite show that addresses moving. Sesame Street has an app called The Big Moving Adventure and printable activities for preschool kids.
  • Make time for goodbyes. Give kids plenty of opportunities to say goodbye to the people and places they love. Throw a going-away party, visit their favorite park, make goodbye cards, and take pictures. If your kids are old enough to keep in touch with friends, you could set up an email address for that purpose.
  • Model a positive attitude. Teach your kids to look on the bright side by highlighting what you are moving toward. Remind them of the things that won’t change and the things that will be different but better.

When To Pack Their Bedroom

Even in the chaos of packing, try to minimize the disruption of your children’s routines. Put off packing their bedrooms for as long as possible. When you do need to start boxing things up, save the things they love for last.

This is particularly important for toddlers, who rely on the familiarity of their favorite things to fall asleep or feel secure. Let each child pick a few items that will stay with them throughout the move. Add these things to an “essentials” bag that includes a change of clothes and whatever else they might need during the trip.

How To Include Them in Packing

Getting kids involved in the packing process can help them feel more in control. Figure out a few age-appropriate tasks for each child. For instance, toddlers and preschoolers might like to color on packed boxes or decorate them with stickers. School-age kids can help with labeling boxes, taping them closed, and even packing some of the less fragile items.

You can also let kids help sort through their belongings before packing. This is a great time to purge broken, unwanted, or outgrown items. You can give kids a little extra incentive by hosting a yard sale and letting them keep their portion of the profits.

Cardboard boxes with belongings in new flat on moving day

Adobe


During the Move

Traveling with children can be stressful under the best circumstances, and moving day is far from that. Still, it’s important to make the trip as comfortable as possible.

Start by mapping out the journey for your kids so they know what to expect. Explain how you will get to your new home. Are you planning a family road trip, or will you be flying? Talk about what you’ll be able to see and do along the way. Pay special attention to any details your children might find exciting or reassuring.

How To Make the Trip Less Stressful

Regardless of how you will be traveling to your new home, resist the urge to rush. Focus on making the trip enjoyable rather than efficient. Here are a few ideas:

  • Plan some in-flight or in-car activities. This could be as simple as playing “I Spy” in the airport or printing off some travel bingo cards.
  • Give each child a travel allowance. Take them to buy snacks, books, games, or whatever they need to make the trip more fun.
  • Let the kids plan some pit stops. For longer trips, you could let each child choose one thing they want to do or stop to see along the way. They could also take turns picking where to eat when you stop for meals.

How To Get Them Excited for the New House

Before and during the move, work on getting the kids excited for their new home. Take them to tour the new house, if you can. If they can’t visit in person before moving day, show them the listing photos or any photos you’ve taken. Talk about changes you plan to make, and let them help pick paint colors or furniture for their bedrooms or play area. You can even tour the neighborhood virtually using Google maps.

Research your new city together. Ask the kids where they want to go and what they want to do after you move. What restaurants are they most excited to try? Do they want to go to the library first or check out the nearest walking trail? Take their interests into account and plan a few outings. Having firm plans will give your kids something to look forward to and give you some much-needed breaks from the work of unpacking.


After the Move

It may take weeks or months for your children to adjust to their new environment. Be sure to check in with them regularly. Ask how they feel and if there is anything they need.

It’s normal for children to be worried about making friends or nervous about starting a new school. They may also feel homesick or miss their old friends. Offer support by scheduling a tour of their new school and helping them stay in touch with friends. Help them practice making new friends and plan outings to acclimate them to their new city.

When To Unpack Their Bedroom

Just as your children’s bedrooms should be last on your packing list, they should be first on your unpacking list. Consider hiring professional movers to help ensure the kids’ bedrooms will be set up before your first night in the new house. If you’re moving across state lines, the best interstate moving companies can help with unpacking and reassembling furniture. Some even offer cleaning and picture-hanging services.

How To Set Up Their New Room

You can help children feel more comfortable in their new space by letting them take the lead on design choices. If they want their room to stay the same, do your best to match the color and setup of their old room. If they are excited to design a new room, let their creativity shine. Let them choose the paint color and a few new decorations. The more decisions they get to make, the more ownership they feel over their new environment.

Home DIY Projects for Children

Some children may only be interested in their own rooms, but if they want to help with the rest of the house, let them. Here are some home DIY projects that kids can tackle:

  • Painting clay pots or making upcycled planters
  • Creating wall decorations, such as a painted mirror or splatter canvas art
  • Making popsicle stick crafts, such as lanterns, baskets, or shelves
  • Building a birdhouse or making bird feeders
  • Planting flowers or a vegetable garden
  • Tying cloth strips onto a mesh mat to create a shaggy rag rug

Kids can also help you hang photos, paint walls, arrange furniture, put away dishes, and tidy up. Older kids might be interested in larger projects, too, like renovating or repurposing an old piece of furniture or building a cozy reading nook.

cardboard boxes filled with personal belongings on the floor next to the front door of a a house

Adobe


Our Conclusion

Moving with children is not easy, but following the tips above can make the transition smoother. The more informed, affirmed, and involved your children are, the sooner they will feel at home in your new house. Throughout the whole process, reassure your kids that your family is in this together. They have some big changes to face, but the most important things—including your love for them—will stay the same.


Expert Tips and Insights

We asked two experts to share their insights for parents who are helping their children adjust to a move. Read their tips below.

Associate Professor of Psychology
Boise State University
See answers

Read bio
What are some signs that indicate a child isn’t adjusting well to a move?
Children may have a range of emotions related to a move, from excitement to anxiety to anger. Many of their reactions depend upon the developmental stage of the child. Preschool children may show signs of extra clinginess to their parents or difficulty sleeping in their new room. School-age children might react with anger at their perceived loss of control over their environment and their discomfort with being pulled away from their friends. In adolescence, children may react with externalizing behaviors—acting out more than usual, such as through physical aggression, rule-breaking, or property destruction.
What can parents do to help their kids feel better when they move to a new city?
In our research and others’, parents play a really critical role in their children’s adjustment to a move. Parents who are sensitive to their children’s needs, who listen to and support their children, have kids who are more likely to fare well after the initial adjustment of a move. Additionally, when parents can manage their own stress levels about a move by getting support themselves, they can parent more effectively, and this leads to better outcomes for children.
Also, for parents who worry that living in a more disadvantaged neighborhood will lead to problem behaviors in their children, we actually found evidence that neighborhood factors don’t predict problem behaviors in teens directly (Chen, Weaver, & Schofield, 2023). Instead, our study, based on two separate longitudinal data sets, demonstrates that parents play a more powerful role in their children’s behaviors than neighborhood factors do. Specifically, parent personality characteristics, emotional health, and levels of co-parent support are important to consider. So, the healthier the parents are in terms of their own well-being and the support they receive from their partner, the better off the children will be, regardless of the neighborhood they move to.
How can parents help kids adjust to a new environment (either at home, school, or other social places) after a move?
Adjusting to a new environment takes time, and parents may need to be extra patient and supportive with their children as they learn to navigate a new neighborhood, school, and social relationships. Here are some suggestions to help ease the transition:
Be involved and supportive of children’s new school environment. If possible, support the development of new friendships by arranging time out of school for children to connect with new friends. Allow children to remain in contact with old friends from their former home. With the ease of online communication these days, children can stay in touch and connected with old friends as they navigate the process of making new friends
If parents are worried about their children’s adjustment and things don’t seem to be improving, reach out to a local counselor or play therapist. Sometimes, just a little extra support can ease kids’ worries and allow them a space to express their feelings about the move.
In the new home, allow children to be involved in setting up their new space. For younger children, make sure there are items in the new bedroom that are familiar and comfortable to them. Older children might also enjoy choosing a theme or paint color for their new room.
Dr. Weaver earned her doctorate in developmental psychology at the University of California, Irvine, in 2009. She joined the faculty at Boise State in January 2012 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her research interests are in infant and early child development, particularly parenting and the family’s role in children’s social development. In recent work, she has been exploring infant feeding practices, such as bottle and breastfeeding, and how this relates to parents’ behavior and well-being. Dr. Weaver has also been extensively involved with the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a national study looking at the effects of child care and parenting on children’s development from birth to age 15.
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Huntingdon College
See answers

Read bio
What are some signs that indicate a child isn’t adjusting well to a move?
More acting out (talking back, sarcasm, aggression): These are signs that the normal, more appropriate ways of getting what the child wants are not working. For example, when the child requests the parent’s attention appropriately, the parent may be busy getting the house settled and may not pay attention like normal. The child may resort to using inappropriate behaviors to get attention when appropriate requests do not work.
More solitude: Pulling away from social activities may be an indication of not knowing what to do or not succeeding when trying new things. The child may seclude themselves and spend time doing things they know they can be successful at.
Regression of skills (if potty training, for example): Young children may show some regression of skills such as potty training, staying dry overnight, and similar kinds of adaptive skills. These are signs that normal routines or supports have been disrupted by the move. Resuming normal routines will help the child get right back on track.
What can parents do to help their kids feel better when they move to a new city?
Parents should not underestimate how resilient children are. Adults often have greater difficulty adapting to changes than children do. Given the chance, children will make friends, play, and find ways to enjoy what the new location has to offer.
Children will take cues from the parents. If the parents are worried and extra protective, the children will think there is something to worry about and be scared of.
How can parents help kids adjust to a new environment (either at home, school, or other social places) after a move?
At home, maintain normal routines as much as possible (mealtime, bedtime, wake-up time) or establish new routines. Routines are important because they provide structure to the day and help children know what to expect. When children are able to predict what will happen, then they are more calm and less stressed.
Take time out from getting settled to have some quality time with the children. Remember how long days felt when you were a kid. Set aside some time each day to bond with your child through reading, eating a meal, playing, or just talking together.
If possible, visit the school or other social establishments before the move. Let the child see where they will be, and give them time to know what to expect.
Dr. Kent D. Bodily joined the Huntingdon College faculty in 2023. He served as president of the Southeastern Society Association for Behavior Analysis in 2022 and taught on the faculty of Alabama State University and Georgia Southern University before stepping into the role of clinical director for Growing Independence Behavioral Services (GIBS), the Learning Tree, in Montgomery.

FAQ About Moving With Children

What is the best age for a child to move?

Children of any age may find moving to a new city challenging. However, children under the age of five may be less affected long-term, especially if they have not yet started school.

How do you make moving less stressful for kids?

The most important thing you can do to make moving less stressful for kids is to be fully present so they feel seen, heard, and loved. Here are a few things to focus on:

  • Offering age-appropriate details and choices
  • Letting them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, confused, nervous, or scared
  • Helping them see the positives
  • Sticking to normal routines as much as possible

What should I keep in mind when moving with kids?

When moving with kids, put their needs first. Give them plenty of notice and information about what to expect. Be prepared to answer questions and make adjustments to your plans. Try to keep their environment and routine as stable as possible. Help them process their feelings and look for ways to make the experience fun.

What can I do to make my kids more open to a new environment?

New environments are intimidating because of all the unknowns. You can make your kids more open to a new environment by answering their questions, practicing new skills with them, and modeling a positive attitude. Spend some extra time talking, playing, and reassuring them of your love. Let them adjust incrementally, if possible, and balance big changes by keeping small things, like their bedtime, the same.