Excited to have Lauren here talking about strategies to help keep stability for your baby during a big move. Or many big moves!
Our family recently moved to Japan via a military move. In preparing for our big move overseas to Japan, I did a fair amount of research beforehand on moving with small children, and I also learned a lot along the way. Research shows that moving is one of the top stressors you can experience in life. Change in living conditions and change in residence fall number 28 and 32, respectively, on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. I have yet to find anything that says where moving overseas falls on that scale, but I’m going to guess that it is significantly more stressful to move abroad than it is within your home country.
So for a moment let’s reflect on how stressful moving can be as an adult. Next, let’s transfer that stress onto a child and multiply it since it is very likely the child will have a difficult time understanding what is actually happening. It sounds slightly discouraging, but I don’t think it has to be that way. Let’s explore a few strategies to help small children cope with a move or any big life transition for that matter.
1. Collaborate with your spouse
As with everything in our lives, I think clear communication with your spouse is essential. Even more so, developing a plan to manage stress and help your child transition is the catalyst for getting through tough phases. My husband and I talk almost daily about current challenges and struggles related to our family life. We are not trying to focus on the negative, but rather we are attempting to address real issues head on.
When we talked about moving, it often involved strategizing our son’s sleep. Despite our travels and big move, we always wanted to prioritize our child’s sleep, even if that meant sacrificing our own fun and play. We also talked a lot about providing our son with consistency and setting a positive tone in our home, which brings me to my next strategy.
2. Mom and dad set the tone.
As parents, our children look to us for guidance even when we aren’t actively guiding them. This means when you are stressed or yelling or simply at your wits end with an impending event in your life, your child observes and watches you. He looks and notices that you are stressed. He looks and notices your day to day attitude. This is why it is so important to effectively manage your own stress.
Exercise, eat right, and take a few hours to yourself to recharge: all of these things are important and worth the time when preparing for a big transition. We want to employ a calm and sensitive tone in our home, especially before, during and after a big transition, as this is the time our children are more apt to perceive our stress.
3. Talk to your child about the upcoming changes.
If your child is old enough, go ahead and discuss that you will be moving to a new home. Feel free to talk about it as frequently as possible, since small children learn and understand best through repetition. Allow your child to become comfortable with the idea. Be sure to remind your child that everyone is moving together and that everyone is staying together. This will help your child become more secure with the idea of moving.
4. Allow your child to participate.
Again if you child is old enough, allow them to participate in the process. Grab a few boxes and let your child pack up his room a bit, and while doing so, explain why you are packing. If you live close enough to where you are moving, take your child to your new home and allow him to explore before the actual move. Once you actually move, several articles I read suggested unpacking the child’s room first to allow him to have access to all his regular items. This can provide a secure sanctuary for your child when the rest of the house is in chaos.
5. Keep a good routine.
The world is a chaotic and stressful place to a small child, and schedules and routines offer children feelings of safety and security. Children learn to expect what happens next in a day to day routine, and they can feel confident in that. Knowing what comes next helps new situations feel less stressful.
A big transition is exactly the time that Babywise comes in the most handy. If you are already doing Babywise, you’ve likely established a good schedule, pre-nap routines, pre-bedtime routines, and just a sound structure to your days. The beauty of the schedule is that is goes wherever you go.
Travel or moving? These routines follow you along the way. This is probably the biggest thing that can help your child through a big transition. The message here is keep your routines and schedules as much the same as possible, and you will reap the rewards, which leads me to my next strategy.
6. Keep as much the same as possible.
When we are about to endure a big life transition, we minimize all change outside of that. A mom once told me if you move, try and keep the child’s room exactly the same as it was at the old home. Arrange the room as similarly as possible. Paint it the same color. Keep the same toys, blankets, and decorations to help the child gain a sense of familiarity.
I’m also huge advocate for ‘lovies’ (e.g. a stuffed animal or blankie). We introduced a lovey at 6 months and use it to help cue sleep and also to provide comfort and security. We keep a lovey only in the crib, unless we are about to go through a big transition. Then we use the lovey a lot more liberally. We use it during travel in the car or a plane, and we let him keep it along with him during play in a new environment. Loveys offer children an easy sense of security, and they are simple to implement.
7. Know your child may have physical symptoms.
Small children are not usually able to articulate stress in the same way adults are. It is for that reason that you may be inclined to see physical changes in your child during a big transition, and it is important to be able to recognize them.
Here are what you can watch for in young children:
- Start sucking their thumb
- Wet the bed if already potty trained
- Talk baby talk or regression in talking ability
- Cling to you constantly
- Experience stomach aches or headaches
- Have loss of appetite
- Have sleep disruptions such as insomnia or night waking
- Become shy, aggressive or act out
We stayed in temporary lodging for several weeks after arriving to Japan. After the first few nights, our son starting waking in the night and staying awake for several hours. He was very emotional during this time. One of the nights, he threw up while I was holding him and continued on and off for about an hour. He had no other symptoms, and we put him in the bath tub at 2 or 3 am, and he was truly the happiest puking kid I’ve ever seen. I’m going to bet his vomiting was actually a stress response. Another mom I know said both of her children vomited at least once and experienced headaches and tummy aches after the big move.
During big transitions, it is common for everything to culminate and affect our children in a physical way. The best way to deal with stress responses in children is to be present and supportive with changes, which is my next tip.
8. Be present and supportive with changes.
Moving is hard on everybody, but most especially young children. To children, moving is akin to having their entire world taken apart, which is literally what’s occurring. Offer frequent reassurance and TLC during this time. Make extra time for intentional play and quality time with your child. You may also need to do things you normally wouldn’t. A few nights my son fell asleep in my arms in bed with me. I had never allowed my son in my bed before, but it was the extra love and care he needed during that time. After a few nights, we transitioned back to our normal routine.
Major life changes are challenging and stressful. Small children look to us for guidance during tough times, and as parents, we can offer a lot of help to make the transition easier. Offer comfort through clear communication, a positive attitude, a good routine or schedule, and using words of affirmation. Lastly, remember that children are incredibly resilient little people. Often times, they are more capable than we could ever imagine.
Lauren Tamm is a mother, military spouse, freelance writer, and the author of TheMilitaryWifeandMom.com. She is passionate about practical parenting, enjoying motherhood and navigating military life. She welcomes you to connect with her via her blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest!
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