Moving is up there with the 10 most stressful things in life. For a child, it can also be an overwhelming and frightening experience. Thankfully, there are plenty of things parents can do to make the transition easier. "There's a lot of stress around the uncertainty of it all," explains Paul Morganstein, a Toronto-based child and family therapist. "There's often a kind of grieving process as they let go of what they have."

Experts agree that children of all ages need to be kept in the loop, so it's important to ensure they don't hear about the move by accident. Discuss it with them from the outset and outline the reasons behind it, be it a new job or the need for more space. However, warns Christine Uchida, a child, adolescent and family therapist in Ottawa, "Do not blame another member of the family for the move."

Instead, make children feel it's something they're participating in, rather than having imposed upon them. "Ask if a child understands why they're moving," advises Morganstein. Highlight the positive aspects of the move — a bigger house, a backyard, a bright new bedroom — but don't dismiss your child's concerns. "What may be insignificant to you or I may be the world to the child."

Timing is everything. Moving after a major death in the family or a divorce is difficult because children have enough to deal with. In such cases, parents must take extra care to communicate and assuage their fears. Regular visits to the new house, or photographs of it, might help alleviate anxiety and generate excitement.

"If at all possible, take kids on a tour of things like parks, ice cream stores, rec facilities, the new school — familiarize them with the neighbourhood," says Doug Heldman, a salesperson for Royal LePage Estate Realty in Toronto. He caters to kids, as well as parents, when touring new neighbourhoods, pointing out features such as a great tobogganing hill and good streets for playing road hockey.

While forging connections with the new home, also encourage kids to stay in touch with old friends via letters, phone calls, email and visits, says Uchida. However, expect some fallout. "Change is always stressful for children," she says. "How well a child will adjust will depend on several factors." The reasons for the move, when it will take place, where you're moving, and a child's temperament and age all contribute to their reaction.

Moving with little ones
Younger children (those under the age of six) are sometimes easier to move, as they don't dwell on what is happening or how it will change their lives. Still, children thrive on routine and familiarity, so you have to prepare them all the same.

  • Don't make other major changes, such as toilet training or moving from a crib to a bed, at the same time as a move.
  • Explain what's going to happen early and often using the simplest terms. Turn it into a game, using toy trucks or dollhouses to illustrate what to expect during a move.
  • If possible, visit the new house regularly (or show them photographs) and explore the neighbourhood.
  • While you want to make your child part of the action, it might be easier if she hangs out with a relative or friend the day of the move.
  • Your child's new room should be filled with familiar objects. Now is not the time to purge and invest in new furnishings.