Q: We've just found that my husband is being transferred to another state and we have to move next month. We have a toddler and 4-year-old twins and the confusion of moving is bound to distress them. How can we make it easier? -- J. W.
A: Keep it simple. Tell them you are moving and explain why; stay positive and calm.
What they need most is reassurance that you are all moving and that all of you will still be together in the new house. Reassure them that they'll be able to take their toys and special things with them. It may seem elementary to us, but they need to know that their new home will have a bedroom and bathroom, and a kitchen and food and a place to play, and that you will be there, too.
When young children hear only bits and pieces of adult conversations, it can confuse them and cause unnecessary fears. Be aware that they are listening when you talk about the move with your spouse, family and friends. If you sound doubtful or negative they'll pick up on it. I know it's hard to do when you have so much to do, but help them see moving as an exciting and special thing your family will do together.
Your local library has good books about moving that will help with the children's concerns. Talk about the stories as you read them, and be a good listener. Your 4-year-olds will have many questions; some will reflect fears. Watch their facial expressions and find words for their feelings: "You are worried that you won't have a place to put your bed in the new house."
If possible show them photos or draw simple pictures of the new house or apartment, the rooms and yard. If you can, tell them about special things in the new neighborhood, like a nearby park or a lake or a zoo. Give them some things to eagerly anticipate.
Find some time to let them do some pretend play about moving; when kids act things out they practice coping with fears. This can be as simple as giving them a small suitcase or tote to pack and unpack or move from one part of the house to another.
Keep them with you as much as possible, even if you are busy. If they are left with a friend or relative too much, they may become concerned that you will move without them. Remember to take time to share your feelings with them honestly and positively. "I'm excited about moving, but I also feel sad that we won't see our friends as often as we do now." Explain that the old friends may still be able to visit and can write letters or send emails and talk on the phone.
Plan out "moving day" carefully and be sure the kids know exactly what to expect. This will minimize questions and fears. Help them understand the time frame by marking off days on the calendar. When the day comes, be sure they have a personal backpack for special things they need to keep with them that would not be trusted to the movers.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.