We are not a military family but we've moved ... a lot. Thirteen moves in 13 years of marriage have taught me how to pack. Having my kids attend five different primary schools because of our moves has taught me how to keep kids settled through multiple moves. Whether it's their first move or 21st, moving can be tough on kids. If a move is in your family's future, here are some tips to help your children throughout the moving process.
In between moves
Try new things
Encourage your child to experience small changes such as trying new hobbies, tasting ethnic foods or taking a different route on a family bike ride so they'll be malleable when big changes come. Along with celebrating change, teach the truth - that some things never change, like God's love for them and your love for one another.
"Cling tight to the things that don't change ... the truths in life that are solid and dependable ... and then roll with everything that does change," Kathy Wilkins, Brave Girls Club.
Reinforce the value of family
Let your family know how important they are in everyday ways; such as display family pictures, go on family outings and work together on family projects. This way, feelings of family solidarity remain even if friends do not.
As singer and songwriter Dave Matthews sings, "Turns out, not where, but who you're with that really matters."
Be honest about the future
If a move could be in your future don't keep it from your kids. A military dad offers this advice, "If possible, prepare the kids well in advance of the move. Talk to them about it. Let them express their concerns and feelings so that they can process the coming changes over the course of six months instead of six weeks. Don't pretend like not talking about it will somehow help."
Once a move is imminent
Explain and be steady
This may sound obvious but explain to your children why your family is moving. If you are moving due to undesirable circumstances like a job loss or death, offer your children empathy while keeping negative comments to yourself. Parents need an avenue to share their feelings but your child needs to be able to count on you being upbeat and steady at this time of transition.
Find similarities between here and there
If your family visits a favorite restaurant chain, attends a specific church or enjoys a particular activity, find out their proximity to your new location. These new town highlights will come in handy if tears start to flow once you break the news.
Research your new location
Let your children research the new home. Pre-schoolers enjoy learning about new climates, flora and fauna. Help grade school age kids find information about the town's history, local landmarks or popular eateries. Encourage your teen to peruse their new school's website to learn about the school mascot and extra-curricular activities. If your child has a hobby or sport they participate in, get information on the availability at the new location. Keeping kids busy can help them feel happy and grounded, regardless of where you live.
Open communication lines
Consider setting up a family Skype account or let your teen or pre-teen set up their own email so they can connect with and be remembered by friends and relatives. This can be especially helpful if moving overseas.
As you pack
Be a cheerleader
Initial excitement about a move can become eventual dread, so share love often. Express confidence in your child's ability to adjust to the changes and reassure them that you'll be there to help. One military dad suggests speaking "positively about the opportunities that await your family in their new location. Focus on how enriching it is to have many friends all over the world rather than a few friends in one area."
Make it fun
Although another move could be the result of a job promotion for you or your spouse, kids may see it as a punishment. Keep things light by making a game of sorting and packing items.
Before one of our moves, we bought an inexpensive indoor bounce structure for the little kids to jump in while I packed. While packing for another move, we found a lot of old documents that needed to be shredded; after the task was complete we had a paper fight with all the shreds.
Let the kids help plan a going-away party to say goodbye to their friends and share your new address. This can give children something about the move to look forward to rather than dread.
Once you arrive
Once at your new home count your new blessings. On one particularly hard day after our family moved across our country, I made a short list of blessings and counted among them the kindness of a bank teller at our new bank. Our interaction was brief but still a valuable blessing worth counting. Gratitude is a great stabilizer for children and adults alike.
Celebrate how far you've come
We purchased a large map of our country, had it framed on cork board and placed labeled push-pins on every city we've lived in. We also put pins labeled with the names of our family members in the locations they reside. This helps our family remember our moving adventures while realizing we're not so far apart from our loved ones after all.