How do we prepare a toddler for moving?

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By: RebeccaLeePCC BY 2.0
My partner, myself, and our 2 1/2 year old currently live in an apartment on a college campus. We love our apartment, but recently found out they will be using our units to expand student housing. Thus, we are moving (with a few incentives because of the nature of the change) to another apartment located “up the hill” on our college campus.

Our 2 1/2 year old is VERY attached to our home. It’s the apartment he has lived in his whole life. Because of the nature of the move, we have to go in mid-May. So, I’m wondering: with a month and a half, how can we get our toddler ready for the biggest change in his life so far? — Rachael

Comments on How do we prepare a toddler for moving?

  1. Hm…the only thing I can think of to suggest is to visit the new apartment as much as possible to get him familiar with the new place. Show him where his room will be, where he’ll be able to play, where he’ll eat dinner, where you’ll be sleeping, etc. Try to get him excited about it. I think if he can start to visualize that this new apartment will be his home…then the transition might be easier.

    Of course this is assuming you’ll be able to have some form of access to the new apartment before moving.

    My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have recently built a house and will be moving in the next month. They have a 2 1/2 yr old girl and a boy who’s almost 5. The current house is the only house the kids have ever known. But to make the transition easier, and to get the kids excited…they visited the showhome as often as possible. When we went to tour the showhome, the kids were running around and showing us “their rooms”, where Aunty and Uncle get to sleep, and where Mom and Dad sleep. I’m sure moving day will still be hard, but because they know they’re new house and where everything is…I don’t think they’ll be mourning the loss long.

    • Thank you! Luckily, we’ve been able to take him over there. His first question was, “Where’s all the stuff?” Haha. He seems to be getting excited about it, but like you said, I’m anticipating the moving day itself to be a little rough. But, you’re right, these little people are a lot more resilient that we sometimes give them credit for!

  2. We just moved with our 2 year old and newborn. We just tried to involve her in the packing, keep the conversations about moving as light and upbeat as possible (difficult because, you know, STRESS), and we also packed her room up last.

    She seemed to take the idea in stride, but when we actually moved she went from being semi potty trained back to 100% diapers, and from (finally) sleeping in her own bed back to 100% cosleeping. She also was quite tantrum prone for a few weeks.

    So I guess based on my experience, expect it to be really tough. If it goes smoothly you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience! I have a feeling I need to prepare myself for the mood swings — that’s his MO for when things change. Prepare for the worst and be delighted when it’s better, right? 🙂

  3. It sounds like you’re maybe kind of bummed about the move– which, I would be, since the university is shuffling you around without you really having a choice– but the more you can be matter-of-fact about the whole thing, the easier it will probably be for him.

    Also, little kids don’t always know things that we take for granted, so it’s worth talking about that his family, clothes, books, and toys will all come with him; that he can still visit the same parks and see the same people; that his daily routine will be the same, and so on. Anytime something different happens (from being hospitalized to seeing the garbage truck one day), my 2-yo wants to tell the story a million times.

    • Thank you for bringing the emtoions up — I need to make sure I’m not transferring my own feelings about the move onto him. I’ve been trying to be really positive and get him excited, so hopefully that will get through!

  4. Maybe you could frame the move as an exciting adventure? Also, if you can afford it, maybe there’s a toy or piece of furniture or something that would be really exciting for him that you could buy a day or two in advance of the move, with the plan that he gets it the new apartment. It would make the new place more appealing, and might keep him busy while you unpack.

    • This is such a great idea! The new place has a much bigger balcony than the one we have now and he’s been talking about the “huge balcony” so maybe getting him something to put out there would help.

  5. Perhaps giving him a pack of post it notes to mark all of his own belongings to help him understand that they will all be coming with him.

    You know your child best, so you could either reassure him that you will decorate his new bedroom the same as his last, or would he like the excitement of choosing new bedroom decorations?

    • I second this. We moved when I was four, and one of my earliest memories involves crying over the fact that I’d have to leave all my toys behind because they belonged to the old house. The move was much more exciting and less scary when I understood that everything was coming with me!

    • Love the post it idea! He’s a Virgo and definite organizer (already) so that might really help him. I think I’m going to take him to the store move in day to pick out some new wall decals. Thank you!

  6. We moved when my daughter was 20 months. We prepared her by talking up the “new house”. We visited it a couple of times before we moved, but I think talking helped the most. I think giving it a name helped a lot too. After we moved we kept talking about the “new house”. We talked about moving all our stuff to the new house, having a new room in the new house, how mama and mommy were moving to the new house too, etc. Afterwards we talked about going to the grocery store and then coming home to the new house, going to daycare and then coming home to the new house, etc. On the days when we actually packed and moved, we sent her to daycare so we could concentrate on the tasks at hand and she wouldn’t be upset by our stress of packing and moving. I think that helped a lot. At daycare the day of the move they talked up the “new house” too. Good luck!

    • Oh, definitely talking about the “new house”! We moved with a 2 year old and a 6 month old. The baby didn’t care. The 2 year old talked for awhile about where our “old house” was compared to our “new house” (they were about 15 minutes apart). And we made sure to set up the bedroom pretty similar to what it was at the old place, so things were still very familiar. We got excited about the truck, we let him help pack things, and got him very involved in the process, which he liked, because it was more “big kid” stuff that he could do.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience! I think I’m having my grandparents come to take him to the playground and out and about for a fun day while we do all the moving, so hopefully that will help his stress level like a day at daycare did for your daughter.

  7. I have moved several times with my daughter, at 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 2.5 years, 4 years and 4.5 years old (yeah lots of moving!)

    Every time we would move (when she was 2 and over) I made sure she got to visit the new house, and see where her room would be. I talked about how all her stuff was coming and so were we. She was really a mellow kid and kind of didn’t care, but she did name a couple of our houses, the most recent two at least. There was the grassy house (It had a huge yard) and where we live now was the house on the mountain. She was so excited every time we’ve moved, and just kind of saw it as an adventure.

    I hope that continues because we’ll be moving in the next year to my mother’s house (she’s moving out and us in!) But I think she’ll be ok since it’s Grammy’s house and we’ve lived there before!

  8. For me (as an adult to hates change), one of the things that helps with a move is to get as much familiar furniture and furnishings as possible set up right away, particularly the furniture I use most. Once the bedroom furniture is all in place and the bed is made and my living room chair where I sit to use my computer and the end table that goes beside it are in place, I start to feel much more at ease.

    For a toddler this would probably mean getting his bedroom (or your bedroom, if that’s where he sleeps) set up and getting his favorite and most use toys unpacked and possibly getting the storage furniture for them set up. Putting up familiar art or curtains from the old house could also help.

    Re-establishing familiar rituals and activities as quickly as possible after the chaos of the move would probably also help.

    • Thank you for these ideas. It’s funny how sometimes we forget the simplest things like setting up the bed. We cosleep, so the bed will be the first thing, and I’m making sure to keep these two pillows out that are his comfort objects — those aren’t even going to see the inside of a box because I want him to have access to the familiarity at any point.

  9. We moved just after our daughter turned 2 and it was hard for her. Same things others have said – visit or drive by the new place often.

    Our daughter had a lot of anxiety around who/what got to go. We kept repeating, “we’re all moving, the dog too, and your toys, and our food, and the furniture…..”

    She still talks about the “old house,” but has adjusted nicely. She didn’t regress at all, but she was “worried” a lot (her words) and exhibited quite a bit of stress around it all.

    • I think this is my biggest concern, that he doesn’t really, totally understand and that move-in day (we’re saving his room for last like suggested) will be a little emotional.

  10. I keep meaning to comment on this, so here goes! We’ve moved quite a few times since our now 4 year old son has been alive — once when he was 3 months, then around 2, and again right after he turned 3, followed by a cross-country move around 3 1/2.

    The first two weren’t that big of a deal — at all. He obviously couldn’t verbalize anything when he was 3 months, and when we moved when he was 2, he was fine when he realized all his stuff was still in our place. The move was 3 was pretty heavy, since he had really great memories from the house we lived in between 2 and 3 — he still talks about that house, and it’s been over a year since we left it. It helped to have all of his stuff set up for him before he saw our new apartment — a big conversation we kept having leading up to the move was about how he would still have all of his stuff and still be able to visit the places he loves.

    The cross-country move took the longest to adjust to (which makes sense), but even that he’s since happily accepted. He talked a lot about moving back to our old home for around 3 months, and now that he sees family periodically (in person and on Skype) and is in preschool, he’s a lot happier with where he is.

    ANYWAY, my point is this: make sure your kid has all of the stuff he loves in the new place, and make sure you keep your general routine consistent. Since it sounds like you guys aren’t moving super far from where you’re living, I think he’ll likely surprise you by adjusting pretty easily.

    • Thanks for the comment! We’re very lucky in that we’ll be in the same community. One thing that’s been hard is that because the place is a little smaller, we’ve had to adopt out a few of our reptiles (We’ve gone from five snakes to two and two bearded dragons to one) which has been hard on him because I think it’s already messing with his sense of familiarity. Anytime we go visit the new place, though, he’s happy and excited, so I hope that excitement stays. I figure that first night might be a little rough, he’s always had trouble sleeping. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  11. Our (many) moves have always been helped by

    Getting kidlet looked after on the move day
    Setting up kidlet’s room first, so when he comes to the new house his space is as much the same at it can be

    Not so much tips for preparing but it terms of move and aftermath this has always been helpful to us all

  12. We just moved with our 2 year old and 10 month old. The 2year old doesn’t seem to care about it. The 10month old screams if he’s out of eyes sight.
    I really think it depends on the kid.
    We tried to keep their rooms as close to how they were as possible. Furniture in the same positions, same curtains etc. My 2 yearold got to pick out some new stuff for her room, I think that might have helped. I also involve them in unpacking the new house. Sure they sometimes slow me down, but at least they get to “help”

  13. We’ve moved twice in the last two years, and its not easy, but they do adjust. I have three suggestions for a close-by move: (1) read lots of books about moving. My boys love to read, and it helps them process things through books. (2) Give them some control when things start to get packed up. I gave the boys each a package of stickers with their favorite cartoon characters (Spiderman and Cars). When we packed up anything that was theirs, they had the job of putting their stickers on the box so that the movers knew what boxes were the most important boxes to be moved (our movers the second time were amazing — they moved all the toys first and made a big fuss of watching the boys open the boxes in the new house to make sure they were all there). The boys appreciated feeling like they were in control of some part of this life-changing event that was being hoisted on them. (3) Since you’re moving close by, go to the new house and then, from there, walk to all the familiar places you normally walk to — the park, the library, a cafe, etc. Our second move, which was in town, was much easier for the boys because I took alot of time leading up to it to show them how we would still go to the same library, to “our” park, to their soccer field, etc. Good luck!

  14. We’re in the process of moving with a 22 month old RIGHT NOW. We got the keys to the new house on the first of the month and are lucky to still have our apartment (just 10 minutes away) until the end of the month, so we’ve been doing a slow move (the truck will come for the furniture on the 20th).
    We’ve been trying to take a load of boxes to the house every day and some of the first things we took over were the “rotation toys” that our daughter hasn’t seen in a while. We took over snacks and a sippy cup and have cooked a few simple meals there (eating picnic style) to get her used to being in the house. So far she seems OK. I wasn’t sure if she understood the concept of packing boxes, but yesterday she found a small empty box and started to put some of her toys in it. When she was finished, she pushed it towards the front door (our box zone) and said “house!” We made sure her box came on the next trip and let her unpack in her new room. I think it helped her grasp the concept of bringing our stuff with us and not leaving it behind.
    Apart from the “stuff” our new house will actually mean new routines for her – she has been a co-sleeper up to this point but will be getting a big girl bed at the new house.
    I guess my one point of advice would be to act excited or happy at least some of the time. We’re ridiculously excited to move and I think our daughter is feeding off of that excitement. I’m not saying don’t ever be sad (because it will happen), but try to limit it because likely would make your toddler think the move is a negative thing.

  15. We moved in Jan with my 2.5 year old. He went from being a wonderfully behaved, sweet boy to a very bratty kid who refused to sleep all night in his bed, threw tantrum after tantrum at the drop of a hat, etc. It was rough for a while. And then we settled in, and he went back to his sweet old self. Don’t despair if you see a personality change – moving is hard on all of us – but kids adjust really fast. It’s not fun, but it’s brief.

  16. We moved to another country when the kiddos were 2 and nearly-4… we made a big deal about the belongings that were coming with us, decided which “special” toys were coming with us on the plane, and made a book about the process. I also did an impromptu explanation of what was happening, using toys (a fisher price dollhouse and a cardboard box as our “before” and “after” houses, a plastic tub as a ship, and a toy plane). There were tears after the explanation, but that’s probably the first time the older one truly understood what the heck we were doing all these strange things for.

    Making a book was the most constructive and healing thing for the kids – at each stage, when something “new” happened, we wrote a page in the book and illustrated it. Daddy left first, so we did a page of taking daddy to the airport. Then we packed all our belongings into boxes, so that got a page. The shipping container also got a page of its own. It got to the point where something I would consider minor would happen (like the cleaners would arrive) and the kids would call for the book. They still refer to the book occasionally, nearly 5 years later.

    There may be a few “I want to go home now” moments – I explained to our kids that someone new was living in our OLD house, and it was their home now. Weren’t we lucky to have our lovely NEW house? It worked well (although sometimes I would feel like a broken record).

    We got the book “Amy and Louis”, which was a little hard for me to read to them (“If I call Amy really loudly, she’ll hear me, won’t she?” Louie asked his mom.
    His mom shook her head. “Amy is half a world away.” *sob*, *sob*), but helped with our big transition move. It’s just been released in America with a different title.

    Good luck, before you know it, kiddo won’t even remember the “old” house. Seriously.

  17. I really loved reading all of these comments and suggestions. We move every 2-3 years for my husband’s job (all over the world, so no preparing by introducing the new house slowly). My son is now 2 and next year will be the first move he will remember. Will have to keep some of these things in mind when the time comes!

  18. We moved last August when our daughter was a little over 2.5. It was surprisingly untraumatic for her. What seemed to be the most important is that I talked about what was going to happen, what was happening, and what had happened, ad nauseum. Like others said, being very clear that most everything was coming with us, that the new house has exciting features, that someone else would be living in the old house. Still, I’m pretty sure she thought we were moving into our real estate agent’s house, no matter how many times I tried to explain that wasn’t happening.
    I had to keep reminding her that none of our stuff was in the old house, even though she had seen it completely empty. That particular reminder seems to make the difference between her being sad about the old house vs. not caring as much.
    Now that it’s been awhile, we sometimes drive by the old house and I point it out, but I’m realizing that I should stop and leave well enough alone, since it gives her something to be sad about she probably wouldn’t think of otherwise. The only part she hasn’t gotten over is that I gave away our TV during the move. Guess I couldn’t slip that one by her 😀
    During the actual move, I think that having your kid with you and away from you both have major downsides. We compromised by having others around for a few hours of time, and the other grown ups could either help pack while I was playing with her, or play with her while I was packing. Close enough so as not to increase anxiety, but not preventing the move from going forward.
    Lastly, I tried to make the moving process as fun as possible, even though we were feeling tortured as grown ups. Lots of playing with packing materials, moving stuff around the house, drawing on boxes, filling/dumping boxes, saying “see you soon” to objects being packed.

  19. We just did a move with 2 1/2 year old toddler, and although it was a stressful move, my son actually did pretty well with it! We started getting him acclimated to the idea about a month before the move. What really helped was I found this website called Twigtale that does exactly the thing in this article — you can upload photos of the new house, new neighborhood, etc., and there’s a prewritten story that gets the child ready for the move. My toddler wanted it read to him over and over again. Then we had him help with the packing and say goodbye to his house (just like in the story). When he got to the new house, it was like the story came true — he was really excited, and not at all apprehensive, which was a huge relief to us! Good luck on the move! Here’s the book I got —

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