I grew up moving for my dad’s job and have started our kids down the same path! We have moved three times in the past five years (with a newborn, while pregnant and with a toddler, and now with a preschooler and a toddler) and now I’m sharing my tips for moving your family to another state. It’s impossible to plan for every last detail or know how your own kids will react, but there are a few ways to make it as smooth as possible!
The first time we moved, my eldest was only four weeks old, I was recovering from a postpartum operation/complications, and the day after we moved 6 hours away, there was an ice storm. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely unprepared.
It took months for me to unpack (I do not make sleepy kids!) and what felt like just a few months later (it was actually over a year) we started preparing to move yet again when I was pregnant and my eldest was not yet 2. Finally, I was ready and researched all sorts of tips for moving your family to another state but most of them applied to school age kids and we mostly ended up winging it.
This last move, with the kids at almost 3 and 5, I finally felt like we were on top of things. We rented a POD (which was a great experience, no complaints there), sold everything that didn’t fit, and had a great experience moving with young kids. I finally feel ready to share some of the things I wish I’d considered for every move; now you can be prepared!
Tips for moving your family to a new state
1- Start packing sooner than you think you need to.
We have had both professional movers and moved ourselves; either way, you need to start sooner than you think you need to. No matter how often you move, sorting through all your material possessions is a great time to weigh their value to you. If you’re in a rush, you’ll end up throwing everything in and wasting time/space/energy moving things that aren’t worth it or would have been better off donated.
Start packing up the things you use the least and slowly work towards the essentials that will be missed most; once boxes start piling up, your kids are likely to feel a little anxious even if they’re too young to comprehend what’s going on!
2- Say goodbye (literally) to your old house.
It can be difficult to explain the concept of “never” to a young kid, but even babies can relate to saying goodbye. Resist the urge to get on the road ASAP and carve out some time to walk through and say bye to their old rooms, favorite trees, and look out the windows one last time.
3- Depending on ages, involve them in donate/sell/pack.
This last move, both of my kids helped sort through things as we prepared to pack. Explaining that we had limited space and making choice between toys, books, etc. was a good life skill to practice and will make packing easier the less you have. Talking about selling things so you can pick out new decor/toys that fit the new house is always a perk, too!
4- Proactively lower expectations & practice empathy.
Moving is stressful, no matter what. Everyone is going to have an added layer of stress so start lowering your expectations now! If you have to pack a box instead of picking up the house, let it go. Expecting your kids to be extra anxious/rambunctious as they process the big changes will help you to remain calm for them – or be pleasantly surprised when they handle it with ease! Reminding yourself that they are potentially just as stressed as you, with fewer coping mechanisms or experience to process it, and be empathetic.
5- Write out what needs to be done ASAP once you move
This list will change for every family, but writing down all the things we need to get around to helps my brain stop whirring. Getting set up with a new pediatrician in case of sudden illness, forwarding the mail, getting the utilities set up, and filling up the fridge are all top priorities. Updating your license, meeting the neighbors, and finding a dentist are still important but easy to forget, so putting them on a list helps!
6- Plan for what short-term shortcuts you can take.
I am always trying to cut down on the amount of trash we generate, but with several months in temporary housing we tried a few meal delivery services. When I’m stressed, cooking dinner is the last thing I want to do, so we ate lots of simple meals and more take out than normal. Maybe for you, it means hiring a temporary babysitter so you can pack more efficiently or hiring out the final house cleaning. Brainstorm what your family can afford and what would alleviate the most stress!
7- Decide on what can be taken along that’s familiar.
For us that was bedding and a few special stuffies; we left almost all our books to be packed and got “new” ones at Goodwill regularly. In my opinion, trying to take too much stuff along can create more stress when you’re in cramped hotels so we limited it to just a couple things. No matter where we were staying, they had the same blankets and noise machine, which helped lend some stability to the bedtime routine.
8- Model the behavior you want to see.
It’s exhausting and stressful for adults to move, too, but if you’re constantly complaining in earshot of them about how you don’t know where anything is, and you wish the library were closer, etc., you’re going to see that negativity reflected right back. Try to vocalize the positives and exude a “can-do” attitude and you might find your kids helping carry stuff instead of ripping into boxes!
9- Let them talk about their feelings.
Sometimes it can be tempting to just beg for silence, but kids need to articulate what they’re feeling and parents need to support them. Let them talk about missing their best friend, etc. without trying to “fix” it. Just making room for their feelings is important! If your kiddo is struggling to find the right words, think about writing a “social story” on the move as a way to help them process it (tips on writing social stories here – I am not a professional but I think neurotypical kids benefit from this too!). There are a few books out there that talk through a move, check your library for them or shop them below through my affiliate links, I make % back if you shop through them:
10- Start making connections in your new home, even if the dust hasn’t settled.
I always want to just narrow in and open every last box, but I know it is worth it to start getting out and meeting people. It’s going to be weeks or months until you feel completely settled, which is a long time for kids to go without playing with other kids! Go get a new library card, start going to the closest park, and be visible in your yard so people can stop by and introduce themselves. My kids go stir crazy without getting outside, too, so we love geocaching (find out how to start geocaching here) when we are in a new place.
11- Remember that kids have good days and bad days, even before the move.
This applies to any trip but try not to despair if suddenly your kid(s) won’t sleep/eat/play like “they used to”. Kids have developmental changes all the time and whatever change they’re going through might have had the same result at home. You’ll end up miserable waiting for them to “go back to normal” because moving creates a new normal; the more flexible you can be the better!
Bonus tip- Don’t forget to keep some boxes! Great for drawing on, playing in, there are lots of ideas to use cardboard boxes to entertain kids.
Do you have any advice you share with friends who are planning a move? Please leave a comment and share!
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