Ask BBB

How do you help a toddler with a major change? I am moving with my husband and soon-to-be-2-year-old across the country and are hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible.

How I wish there were a simple answer that would guarantee a smooth transition in the face of such a big change as is moving across the country.

The reality is that change of any kind can be difficult for young children, a 2-year-old being at the top of the list! I have often told parents that two of the biggest show stoppers for young children are change and hurrying.

The good news is that there are things you can do to take the surprise out of the change, keeping in mind that development plays the biggest part in the child’s ability to process what is going on. Here are few suggestions to get you started:

1. Before you even begin to pack, walk around your home taking photos of your house as your toddler knows it now. Snap pics of everything—the bathroom, the bedrooms, the kitchen, the laundry room, the hallway, the things on the wall, the garden.

Take some with the child in the context. Print those photos and glue them onto some pieces of cardboard to create a book called “My Old House.” (Forget the effort and expense of creating a digitally made version. It isn’t necessary … unless you want to make one.)

Look at that book now for sure. It’s just a book about your house. And after the move, you will look at it over and over, remembering together.

2. Be sure to take photos of other familiar scenes in your neighborhood and in your child’s current life. The music class, the park, the grocery store checker, etc …These can also be in your book.

3. Obtain photos of the new house and show these to your child saying, “This is the house that you, Mommy and Daddy are going to live in all together one day soon.”

4. When it is time to pack, be sure to have a small-ish box in which your child can put a few things. He can even decorate it! You will write his name on this box in big letters. He can help with the packing, as you tell him that everything in our whole house is moving with you.

Then let him see you doing some packing, too. “We are taking all our things to our new house.” When you arrive at the new house, he needs to see that his box is there, the one he decorated and packed.

5. Be sure to take photos of the packing process so you can look back on what happened. Photos and books help children to process their experiences.

6. Get ahold of one of the many great books about moving written just for little ones. Don’t start reading these too far in advance, just a week or two before the process begins.

7. Be sure to emphasize that the whole family and all your stuff is moving with you. The most important thing to your child is that he is with you.

8. When you arrive in the new house, be sure that your child’s room is the first to be set up. He can see all his same old things—his bed, dresser, clothes, toys, animal friends, etc … are there in his new room.

9. Sometimes when people plan to move, there are many stops along the way. It is always better to have as few detours as possible in order to avoid too much change and adjustment for the child.

10. Just know that it will take around six weeks for the child to put down roots. All the disruptions to his life, including his sleep schedule, will fall into a pattern, things will settle down and become truly familiar and comfortable.

Parents tend to think that it is better to shield the child from the move, making it easier on the child. That could not be more incorrect.

It is important for the child to be involved and exposed to the parts of the process. He needs to see that big truck that will move all your things. I even think it is good for a child to see his old empty house. Without your things in it, it doesn’t feel like your house anymore.

A house is not a home without you in it!

Good luck with the move. And keep in touch with us through your Palisadian-Post!


BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.