Helping Kids Manage the Pre-Move Countdown

Moving is tough enough.  But helping your kids move is incredibly challenging.  We’ve been jerking our little people around a little bit with our moving schedule – we just uprooted them for our Kansas to Ohio trek.  And now, in a couple weeks, we’re moving them again.

Despite our reassurances that this move is THE move, the one we have been waiting for, I’m not sure they’re totally on board with us yet.

This dream that my husband and I rammed through this winter is one they share – but the heavy lifting kids do in a move is different from the manual labor of moving and mental labor of organizing a move.

To add to all this, we typically tend to move in the summer when I’m not in school and neither are they.  This time, we’re all walking the high wire of moving while in the middle of the school year.

Whether you’re moving across town (as we are) or across the country (as we did), there are a few things that have helped our kids adjust as best they can to these stressful changes, despite the joy and excitement.

Talk about it

One of the best ways to get your kids through a move is to be sure to talk about it.  However, there is a happy medium here.  While I start talking about a move pretty much from the moment I know it’s happening, I realize this hasn’t really been very clear for the kids.  Instead, it’s better to start talking up a move about 30 – 60 days in advance.  This way they have time to process what’s going on and start to sort out how they feel about it.

I often try to check in with the kids to ask them how they feel – they always feel fine but this opens up the conversation to talk about how we might want to be sure to play with special friend as we won’t see them again, or to be sure to thank this teacher as you’ll be in a different school soon.

We also talk about the process of moving – how everything we see needs to fit into a truck.  We talk about what we’ll do in the new house and how we’ll set up their rooms in a similar way.  We talk about how we may or may not see the things we have around us now and try to take advantage.

Moving is incredibly confusing and complex to kids.  While I’m not sure all the talking has necessarily been fruitful, at least the move itself hasn’t been a surprise and ideally they have some conversations they can pull from memory to help them adjust as we go.

Read about it

As a huge reading family, we read a lot.  I perused the library and pulled out some titles that kids both seemed to enjoy, but also had clear and important messages about moving – how it’s exciting and scary and sad all at the same time.

My Very Exciting and Sorta Scary Big Move

This is a fantastic workbook the helps kids process through all the conflicting feelings about moving (as the title suggests).  This book is geared towards elementary aged kids – those years when there are lots of adjustments at school and a move can be really incredibly stressful.  Kids can work on various pages, examine their emotions and learn healthy ways of managing the roller coaster that moving can be.

Big Ernie’s New Home

My little loved this book.  We read it again and again.  In this story, the cat, Big Ernie, and his little boy move from San Francisco to the American Southwest.  Through Ernie’s eyes, we learn about how he wrestles with his emotions about his new home and leaving behind the things he loved.  In the end, Ernie comes to embrace what his new place offers, with his friend.  The back of the book offers information for parents about how to help kids process and thrive during a big move.

New Kid, New Scene

I’d admit, even as an adult, I found this book rather useful.  If nothing else it gave me a way to talk about and think about our move from the perspective of a slightly older kiddo.  While geared more towards the tween set, my son who’s still in early elementary grades professed to me today he really did enjoy this book.

It’s not necessarily a read-aloud, as it’s pretty text dense, but it does include kids’ own stories about their moves and how they handled the new situations they found themselves in.  Let’s just say we’re reading this one again for our upcoming move.

Alexander Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Not Going to Move

I’m a huge Alexander fan.  And rediscovering these to read to my kids was a total blast.  I didn’t know about this particular book as a kid, but it is the perfect blend of humor and silliness wrapped in an important message.  The illustrations brought me back to my childhood and both kids asked, again and again, to hear about Alexander’s transition from resistance to acceptance.

Get them involved

Another way that I recently found incredibly valuable to help kids and you survive moving, is to get them involved!  I’m pretty regimented about the actual packing of boxes – box packing Tetris means fewer boxes and less broken and damaged stuff!  But I worked hard to find ways for them to help out and asked for their suggestions.

A couple weekends before the move, one of their daily activities on the weekend was to help move.  I listed off the various ways they could help – label boxes (you need these labels, by the way!), write box contents on the master list, help with taping, etc.  Then each kid picked their own job and away we went.

Yes, it was slower and more cumbersome.  But when we’d taped and labeled 10 boxes they both seemed to have a little more appreciation for the crazy work I was doing.  That alone was worth it to me.  Unexpectedly, they both offered to help again and again.  Lovely!

Count it down

Kids love a good countdown.  And I love the beauty that is not having to explain again and again the abstract and confusing concept of time.  So, to help us rock out our current move, I created this printable to help them get pumped up for moving day.  Since my kids are only vaguely aware of the days of the week (what’s today, Mama?) a dateless/calendarless printable works for us.

Helping Kids Move Countdown Printable
Helping your kids move? Get the printable here!

Make plans

I’ve had varying degrees of success with this – I think they’re probably just a bit too young yet.  Still, we talk a lot about what we’d like to do in our new house and the types of things we can do there that we can’t do now (someone may have promised a dog…).

Despite repeated attempts to inspire interest in paint colors and organizing the furniture, they do not care one bit.  However, this fills me with glee so I carry on with my paint samples and repeated questions.  Finally, my older just said, “Whatever you like is good.  I don’t really care.”

I’m still convinced, however, that older kids might get into this jam and you’ll have a warmer ear for your paint sample gushing.

Explain the process

This is one thing I really overlooked.  I’ve moved so many times and understand the process so well it never even occurred to me that the kids had no real idea what was going on or how it worked (parenting fail, I know).

Once I finally figured this out, we spend a lot of time talking about putting everything we see in a box so that it can be easily transported to the new house.  It was also important to talk about the transition time between one home and the next (we moved cross-country over the summer) as well as the unpacking process.

This cleared up a lot of moving day questions and really helped them visualize what we were going for.  It didn’t mean we were closer to actually being packed on time, but at least they understood the goal we were shooting for.

Introduce the new school

For school-aged and preschool kids, we’ve found having some sort of frame of reference for the school the kids will be at to be really helpful.  While we did tour the preschool for the little, we at least had driven around the school and looked at the playground for the older.

We also looked at the websites of both schools and the pictures of the teachers and talked about the people we did know we could identify.While not perfect, there was at least some sort of mental image in each kid’s head about where they’d be all day.

This time we’re moving in the middle of the school year which isn’t very ideal.  However, the little’s preschool has us doing a class visit where she can be with the class for an hour which I’ve really been pumping up for her.

Since the older is in school all day, I don’t know he’ll get the chance, but we’ll know more once we actually get registered and set up a few days before.

Have a grand send-off

I’m not much of a party person and I often find going away parties to be sort of anti-climatic, but it can be helpful for kids to put a punctuation mark on the end of their time someplace.

Whether you throw a party and invite everyone your kids know or you simply send cupcakes to school on the last day, think of some way to create the feeling of finality.

For our last move, I set up an email account for the kids and they handed out cards with their new address and the email address.  We didn’t get a lot of response, but it certainly made them feel much more comfortable leaving behind the people and things they knew and loved.

Bring everything with

Yes, I know.  Purging is the Number One great rule of moving.  But, when my kids started asking with panic looks in their eyes if I was putting things in moving boxes or Goodwill boxes, I knew I had to stop.  No matter how much I hated those kid’s meal toys from fast food wherever, they had to come with.  They would likely never remember half the stuff I was wedging in each box, but I was dutifully bringing it.

Instead, I do the kid purging on the back end, after the move.  We’re less frantic when unpacking and can take the time to talk about each thing, find a place for it, and talk about unloved toys and toys with no home.  We actually get rid of lots of stuff this way (backward, I know) but that way none of us has to part with something we’re not sure about.  And after a few weeks away from something, we all start to appreciate keeping or letting it go that much more.

Draw family close

While moving is incredibly hard no matter how you slice it, the one thing I do love about it is that it drives the family inward to each other.  We strip out all the friends and classmates and coworkers and truly are an island to ourselves.

These moments of moving are challenging, but they are the essence of our family team and helps strengthen our bonds with each other.  Let your kids know that you’re all working for the same thing and you’re all there to support each other.

Some things are always constant in a changing and unpredictable world.  And family of any sort is what all of us need, regardless of where we live or don’t live.


Hopefully, these suggestions will let you and your kids rock your next move and minimize the stress and anxiety that often bubbles up during these transitions.  Moving ain’t easy, but the effects won’t last forever if we do it right.


Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash.

Thoughts? Share them with me!