16 answers

Big Move: How to Protect Toddler from 'Trauma' of Packing up the House

Hi Moms,

We will soon be moving cross country and therefore have a big move ahead of us, how do I prepare my 2 year old toddler? I'm concerned of how my toddler will feel seeing everything get packed up by movers. Additionally we may not move directly into a new home as we may spend some months in a hotel or apartment until our new home is ready in the case we select new construction. In the mean time I have already begun 'hiding' toys in the hopes to reduce the shock of having an abundance of toys then to only a handful of toys for the trip. Also, I have been verbalizing that we will be moving and all toys and things will be packed up until we move into our new home but I don't think my child understands quite yet. Any suggestions or recommendations? Thanks for your time!

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I agree with all the other posts. At 2, they weren't traumatized at all. The only issue I had was that once we were in the house and I was trying to get everything dealt with, there was nowhere to nap. I had a 3 year old and a 2 year old (and a 9 month old). I tried putting some blankets in the big closet and telling them to have some quiet time. Nope. LOL! I would suggest trying to get his/her bed set up first, before anything else. Also, try to keep the routine as much the same as possible(maybe not the easiest task, but the best you can, anyway). Baths, books, nighttime rituals will be the best way to keep their lives and comfort zones intact. Like previously mentioned, kids at this age are super resilient! Good luck and have fun!

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I can't imagine at 2 it will be a big deal, especially if you don't make a big deal about it. across town, across country... s/he won't know the difference.

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The easiest way to protect a toddler from the "trauma" of packing up a house is just that: Don't make it traumatic. :) Make it fun.

Boxes are quite possibly the world's best toys (forts, slides, transmogrifiers, hideouts, drums, drawing surfaces, the list just keeps going and going). Then there's the whole "forest of boxes", and running in an empty house, and crinkling paper, and playing with tape. "Helping" pack, and playing hide'n'seek, and pic nics on the floor. Riding on the dolly, and walking up and down and up and down and up and down the durn ramp to the truck. Moving and packing can actually be rather like disneyland for toddlers... because it's all amazing and new. Then when you arrive, it's like christmas, opening boxes filled with toys made "new" by their absence, but all excited because of their familiarity.

Best "easy button" moving trick? Pack your suitcases FIRST. Get best loved toys, lovey's, clothes, pillows, toiletries all together packed. Then just go room by room and pack every single other thing.

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Don't look at this as a trauma....that will communicate itself to your child...look at it as an ADVENTURE!!! I am an Army wife, so our children grew up with a suitcase always ready to be packed!!!
Tell your child that you are going to be moving to a wonderful new place, get some information about it and share it with him/her. Use this as a teaching opportunity. Are there fun things for your family to see and do there? A zoo, a park, childrens museums, art galleries? Look online ( google "things to do in ----) and find out if you can send off for information packets or contact the local community for information on their area. Make it something to look forward to.
Then,sit down with your child and explain that you aren't going to be able to have ALL of his toys in the place where you will be living right away. Let him/her help you make some choices about the special toys that will go with you to that temporary living place. Have him/her help you decorate a special "toy box" and put those favorite toys in it, explain that those are the toys that will be going with you in the car so that they will be there for him/her to play with as soon as you arrive in your new place.
I can't stress enough...BE POSITIVE...make it exciting, as if you were planning a day at the beach or a trip to the zoo!! And who knows....you may get caught up in the excitement of it too and actually look forward to this move!!

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At two he won't understand. You're already doing helpful things for him. I'd recommend that you have someone watch him at their house while the movers are actually there and as much as possible if you're also doing major packing. My mother said I was terribly upset anytime we moved. She said it was best when I could stay with someone else for the day. I could handle the change better than the transition to the change. I've found this to be true with other children. I think it may not be so much the actual packing that is so difficult but the change in mom's demeanor and inability to spend the amount of time the child needs to be reassured that everything is OK even tho it doesn't feel like it. If he has to be in the house while the movers are there be sure to be sensitive to his moods and take breaks with him before the melt down gets started.

Keep talking with him about the changes but don't expect him to understand. He will still be somewhat prepared by your talks and will have an easier time adjusting once you've moved than he would have if it was all sprung on him as a surprise.

Do pack his bed and bedding so that no matter where you stay he will have his own bed, bedding and cuddly toys.

The most important part of the move for your son is that you and dad are able to respond to his anxiety with love and warm comfort. Work hard on being gentle with both yourselves and him. Have realistic goals for each hour of each day so that you don't get so stressed. Be able to give him hugs as often as he needs them. Expect meltdowns and temper tantrums. Work out how you'll handle them in situations that are also new and stressful for you. Be sure that all of you get enough sleep and regular meals. Pack snacks and if driving stop as often as you need to. Some children need frequent breaks. Others do better with fewer.

At the same time don't be overly sensitive to his feelings. Take care of yourself too. Maintain your routine as much as possible. Decide where your boundaries are with him and his behavior and maintain them but at the same time be free to be flexible if they aren't working.

I'm guessing from the way that you worded your post, that you are a caring parent and that tho moves are difficult for everyone you will do just fine.

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I think there are already a lot of great comments and suggestions here. I would add that you can try to find an age-appropriate book about moving. We are just moving across town, but I was similarly concerned about our 2 1/2 year old. We lucked upon a "My First Winnie the Pooh" book called "Tigger's Moving Day". And I think that is helping her form a mental image of what is going on. We are packing and moving ourselves. So I was worried about the long, drawn out process of having the house packed in various stages with boxes all over the place. She likes for everything to be "in it's place", especially her stuff. But she has absolutely LOVED having the empty boxes around the house to play with. It sounds like the movers will be doing your packing. If so, you might still get a few boxes ahead of time and let your toddler play with them and explore them. And then let him/her see you pack a few of the family's things, maybe even "help". I agree that it might be easiest for everyone and best for your little one if you can arrange for him/her to be out of the house for most of the packing, if it will happen all at once. The movers will not want to have to watch out for him/her and you don't want them underfoot when they are hauling stuff in and out. But if that is not possible, or you think he/she will be more traumatized by the sudden absence of things that were once there, try to find a way to make a game or adventure out of it. However, for my child, I would definitely not want her to see the movers packing up her room. I do think it would be a good idea to let your toddler help in some way pack up the things of his/hers (toys especially) that you will take with you on the road. But I think seeing all of his/her stuff boxed up by strangers would be more difficult than just having the room packed and emptied like all of Mommy and Daddy's stuff.

My big concern with moving across the country would not be the move itself (although it will certainly have it's trying times!), my concern would be more over the upset of his/her schedule. But that is inevitable. Things are going to change and your toddler will have to go to new places (childcare if that is appropriate for you, or even just new stores and parks, churches?, etc.) and have to learn to interact with a completely different group of people.

Moving is a big deal for everyone in the family. And it can be stressful for everyone. It has always been a time for my husband and I when we tend to lose our patience with each other. So you will just have to try that much harder to be loving and supportive as a FAMILY. While I'm sure your toddler finds comfort in the familiarity of your home, the constancy of his/her family around him is far more important to him/her. I suspect he/she will do fairly well. I do think you should continue to talk about it. But be excited and adventurous about the whole thing and try not to give him/her a reason to be scared. That is the best you can do. Then just be prepared to deal with the questions and emotions as they arise.

Good luck!

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I agree that s/he (you don't say which) won't understand. I moved my two sons (then ages 1 and 2) from Florida to Connecticut and they pretty much just went with it. Hotels with pools help! I packed everything while they were out of the house at childcare and the moving truck packed up the house while they were gone for the day. I made sure to tell them that all their things were going with us, but I don't think they necessarily thought any different. Don't underestimate the view that you and your family are "home" not the actual house you live in! My boys' response was pretty much "wow! isn't this new and exciting!" and "mom's here, so everything must be okay."

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I would encourage you to not present it, or hold it as a trauma. How about an adventure! Looking forward. If they start to perceive change at any scale as traumatic, they will become rigid and frightened. He will look to you at how you're reacting to the experience. Show him it is fun, exciting, etc.

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Don't make a big deal out of it. We are moving to a new house and once we get there all of your toys will be there. Focus on the funthings he gets to do when you get to each place. I doubt it will be an issue. We moved when my son was 18 months and he was a little unsure, but we let him explore the hosue before we moved anything in. I wouldn't even hide the toys....just like a regualr trip to a hotel or any vacation destination, you take a handful of toys and call it good. My next question is, are YOU ok with this move?

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i don't think, honestly, that anything will protect your child. we just went through this with my 3 1/2 year old, and while your 2 year old may take it better being younger than mine, there is just no way to make everything okay for him/her. just be extra patient and loving and try to remember that this is a huge deal for your child. make sure the very most favoritest toys/loveys are accessible (i like the idea of packing them in a suitcase to take in the car) and talk up what a big "adventure" it's going to be. be positive and excited and, at least to begin with, your child won't be scared or intimidated. but be prepared for the "newness" of the adventure to wear off, once your child realizes everything is different now. lots of love!

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