Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tips for Moving with a Toddler (or Sensory Kid)

It's been just over a year since we moved into this, our first owned home. I wrote this post shortly after moving, and then didn't ever publish it. It was fun to look back at the photos of us a year ago and see how much we've grown and changed.

With spring and Moving Season solidly upon us, I'm sharing these tips and suggestions now in the hopes that they'll help someone out there with navigating a moving transition with their kiddo. If you have additional insights to share about how you eased through a big transition with a kid in tow, I'd love it if you'd share your wisdom in the comments below! 



A little over a year ago, our family moved into a new home. It was an in-town move, less than a mile between the two residences. Regardless of where or how far you're going, moving with a kid (or more than one!) can be very disruptive and challenging, too.

There were lots of things to do to prepare for the move: packing, cleaning, organizing...but the biggest challenge for us was helping Daniel through the transition. I had a request from a fellow mama moving with a toddler to write about our experiences with moving and what we did to help prepare Daniel for the change.

I feel compelled to add a disclaimer up front: I have to admit that managing Daniel's sensory challenges colors my experience of motherhood so much at this point that I sometimes have difficulty knowing which things are typical toddler behaviors and which things are specific to kids with SPD. In a lot of ways, I've gotten so used to the ways Daniel processes and reacts to things that when I'm around neurotypical children, I'm surprised at how they act and I don't know how best to relate to them (simply because that is not my experience of parenting). As I was writing this post, it was hard for me to separate out the sensory interventions from those which would be more universal, but I think the list I've come up with is relatively adaptable to all kinds of kiddos. If your little one is more high needs or sensitive, these tips may just apply to you that much more.
  • Talk about moving—a lot. I think this might be the most important thing anyone can do to prepare their child for any of life's many transitions: simply to be open to the conversation, and to have it often.

    We started talking to Daniel about the impending move as soon as our offer was accepted on the house. We focused on talking about how moving to a new house will be different, and it might even feel a little scary, but that we were all going together and we would have all of our things when we got there (no one/nothing would be left behind).

    Besides talking to Daniel, I discussed the upcoming change with Daniel's various providers (his OT, Lisa, in particular) to let them know what was about to happen in our lives. I got some ideas and suggestions from them about how to help him through this stressful time. I talked with other parents of sensory kids in the sensory support group I attend, just to ask them about their experiences and get an idea for what I might expect. I talked with parents of neurotypical kids who had been through a move with a little one to hear about their experiences, and what worked and didn't work for them.

  • Read books about moving and/or make up stories if your family is into storytelling. A lot of times it can be easier for kids to process life events in the context of pretend, stories, play, etc. Even as adults, we can understand that when something is happening to someone else, it's often easier to have perspective about how everything will turn out alright for them in the end.

    To help with the move, Lisa made a social story for Daniel about moving which was filled with photographs of our family. The message was simple: our living space would change, but our family would be the same; he would still have everything he needed to feel safe and loved.

  • Visit the new place (if possible) and take photos of your child in his new room to show to him. If you can't visit, still show your child photographs of the new place if you have any, particularly where they will sleep and where you all will eat and play together. We visited the new house at least once a week from the time we knew the move was going to happen until the day we moved. Visits (naturally) became more frequent, and we had a few meals there together (on the floor) to help it feel more like home.

  • Listen to your child (and yourself!) about what kind of packing process would feel best to everyone: quickly over several days, slowly over a month or more...? Of course this can be dictated by your move-out date and other housing, time, patience, and energy limitations. As much as you can, try to find a happy middle ground that feels good to everyone. We had some trouble with this, as Jaymz and I didn't initially agree on how to orchestrate the packing process, but it ended up working out in the end.

  • Consider letting your kiddo "help" with packing their room or just with you along the way, adding items to boxes. I hear this works really well for some kids, but we found that Daniel was really upset by the packing aspect, and he would frantically pull things out of boxes, attempting to put them back where they belonged. It was really sad and stressful for us, so we tried to pack only when Daniel was asleep, and then in the last few days my brother Matthew played with him on one floor while Jaymz and I packed on the other floor.

  • Think about participating in a ritual where each of you (especially your child) moves one object over to the new house before moving day. This was something Lisa suggested to us, that we make a point to have Daniel choose one of his things (a book or toy, for example) and take it from one house to the other, leaving it in his new room. I really do love the symbolism behind this ritual, and I think the physical act of it can really help little ones to better understand the transition that is about to happen.

  • Consider asking a trusted friend or family member to care for your toddler on moving day. For us, this was essential because even though Jaymz and I knew it would be difficult for Daniel to be away from us (his primary emotional regulators), we believed it would be more difficult for him to experience strangers coming into his house and taking all of his things away to put them in a big truck and drive away.

    This decision turned out to be even more wise in our situation (in retrospect) because the moving company lost our reservation and so they showed up three hours late. When we realized they weren't coming (after a brief freak-out moment) Jaymz called several of his friends from work who gladly came over to help us move all of our boxes in our three small cars. By the time the movers finally showed up, all that was left for them to take was the large furniture, so we ended up paying them for less time.

    Even if we could've prepared Daniel for the experience of seeing the movers load up the truck, the last-minute change in plans (during nap time!) would've been a lot to get through without too much fallout. I'm grateful that Daniel had a loving caregiver and a safe place to play on moving day.

  • After you have all your things in your new place, set up your child's room first. This was key for us as well, as we really wanted Daniel to come back to the new home to a room full of familiar things. We made sure to put his bed together first thing, and then we loaded it up with all of his comforting sleepy objects so he would feel safe there.

  • Have your child "help" unpack and settle in to the new place! This has been wildly successful with Daniel (insofar as he's enjoying it, not that it's particularly helpful). He just loves to clean and move things around. I found that involving Daniel has encouraged me to take my time and to have some perspective about the unpacking process. There's really no rush, right?

  • Focus on unpacking what will be your main living space(s) first (the living room and kitchen, perhaps?). For us, removing the visual chaos of the piled boxes and making our main living space (where we would spend most of our time) actually liveable was very important to do quickly. We moved on a Saturday, and by Monday evening, most of our main living space was fairly functional.
    Ack! This was our living room
    right after the movers left.

  • Don't go back to to old place to say goodbye. You know how visiting the empty former dwelling to clean or tie up loose ends can sometimes feel a little weird? It's strange to see the place that used to be home looking so bare and unwelcoming.

    Well, Daniel had a ton of trouble going back to our old place the one time we took him, having a huge meltdown almost the entire time we were there. Upon later reflection I realized that the visit was really not the best idea for my kid in that moment (so now I know).

    You see, we were shooting for something like this:

    But there was a lot of this:


    And a little of this:


    And even more of this:


    All of which made me feel a little like this:
    This was supposed to be a lovely moment, dammit!

    ...Perhaps it's best to avoid this kind of situation in the future, no? ;)

On that note, I'd love to hear your best suggestions for navigating a big transition with a little one in tow. Do you have a brilliant tip that I missed? I hope you'll share your insights and experiences in the comments!

8 comments:

  1. Not sure I'm very helpful, but you know me - I want to share my experience. Though I wonder if it might help to include the child in the home-choosing.

    We were on a waiting list for our home for 9 months. We'd even moved twice within a year. I did take my girls to tour the furnished example of our home.

    We got a call at 4 o'clock one afternoon that we could move... the next day. We also moved in a travel trailer, so after an initial trip of beds from storage, we moved our entire home into our new driveway.

    I should have used that opportunity for the transition. We didn't have steps out on the trailer, though, so we basically forbade Sasha from going out there.

    In hind sight, it would have maybe been worth our while to have her help move all of her stuff. There wasn't much since she only had a bunk in the trailer. Its been 4 months and she still, occasionally, asks for her old home back. I wonder if its all she really remembers and it seems odd because we only lived in it for 8 months.

    ReplyDelete
  2. These suggestions are perfect, and I'm grateful you've started me thinking more about this sort of transition, because now that we're settled in our new corner of the world, we're ready to become homeowners, which will likely mean moving houses soon.

    I don't think I did much for our last move other than things you already suggested. I can say that if you decide to pack during a toddler's waking hours, markers, paints, and stickers are a must have. Boxes make great canvases!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks a lot for sharing this Amy! Your blog is awesome and I enjoyed reading your post. I find your tips really useful and I really learned a lot from it. I will be able to put this to good use someday and I'll be thanking you for sharing your knowledge to me. Thank you for your excellent tips! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that a child needs to be slowly introduced to the concept of 'moving house' before actually moving to new home. I like your ideas about making stories that help the child understand that the family would still be there and that it's just the house that would change. This is definitely a helpful post and one that apartment renters like mooresville apartments should definitely read.

    ReplyDelete
  5. We have done so many moves with our child. We plan to stay put for a while, but there will certainly be more moving house in our future. I suppose this will become more challenging as our son gets older and has a greater understanding of what is going on. Your tips seem very useful! I will remember to look back at them when the time comes again.

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