When our children move house, we’re often asked to help store their clutter so their home is looking at its best during marketing. However, looking after grandchildren is sometimes added to the list of our desirable contributions when children are moving. And, given that moving home can be particularly stressful for young children and teenagers, there are a few tips to consider – before and after they move.

Routines are understandably disrupted in major ways during moving and sensitive planning can help all family members, but especially young children, to better cope with the impending changes.

One of the problems is that busy parents, hectic professional lives, and the necessities of an extremely competitive real estate market can mean little thought is given to the effect moving has on young children and teenagers, both of whom respond differently. Certainly no thought is given to the advice grandparents might need when asked to look after children in the middle of the moving process or how to deal with what comes up afterwards.

Firstly, kids need time to get used to the idea of moving, so parents should give them as much advance warning as possible. It is important for other family members such as grandparents provide them with as much additional information as possible about why the family is moving and what they can expect in their new home and suburb.

Before the move

Here are some tips that should help smooth the process of looking after kids when they are in the process of moving suburb, interstate or overseas:

  • Ask grandchildren to share their feelings with you: Although you’ll undoubtedly be going through your range of emotions, experts say open discussion is very important so your grandchildren can voice the feelings they’re encountering. Listen to what they have to say and assure them that you understand any concerns. Talk to them about your moving experiences and reassure them about life’s journey, and how change can often opens doors to new and exciting chapters and friends.
  • Don’t take their reactions personally: Children can have problems adjusting to a move, or the idea of moving, and can blame a parent or parents for causing it. Don’t fall into the trap of defending a parent’s decision making if this happens. Explain that sometimes big decisions can’t be avoided and reinforce some of the positive outcomes that are possible from a move.
  • Make them a part of the process. Ask your children to help very young grandchildren pack some of their favourite items as their house is being packed up. It can help them understand that although the family will be moving to a new home, their belongings will be moving with them. Personalise their boxes with labels and stickers. Perhaps even ask them if they would like some of their belongings to holiday at your house, during the move.

  • Be cautiously optimistic. It’s important to be positive and optimistic because your grandchildren’s attitude will largely mirror yours and that of their parents. However, don’t insist everything is going to be wonderful. Even if the new house is fantastic, it’s normal for it to take some time to adjust.

  • Help grandchildren to explore the new neighbourhood on the Internet: If they’ll be moving to a new suburb or town, use Google Street View, Google Earth, maps, tourism information websites, local council websites and Wikipedia pages from your new local council or the Internet to explain where you’ll be living. Explain any differences in weather and geography and talk about any nearby attractions that may be interesting, such as moving closer to the beach or to a park. 

  • Try to keep a routine: A child’s world is based on routine and it’s important to try and keep some semblance of normalcy throughout the process. WYZA suggests sticking to a set time for dinner every evening, no matter how chaotic things seem to be, and to regular weekend activities the family enjoys.

    For younger children and toddlers, it can be useful to speak to your doctor about issues such as a new diet or the start of toilet training. It may be better to put any further new experiences on hold until you’ve settled in to the new home.

    With teenagers, the most prevalent concerns revolve around the loss of peer groups, friends and what to expect from a new school. It’s vitally important not to invalidate their feelings but to openly acknowledge their fears and discuss the importance of keeping a sense of proportion and context. Moving house can be exceptionally challenging for teenagers but also an important, strengthening, life experience when handled sensitively.

After the move

After your grandchildren have moved, there’s bound to be a settling in period – perhaps for you as well. If they’ve moved some distance away, you may feel just as heartbroken as them. In fact, it can be doubly difficult for grandparents because you may be experiencing considerable anxiety about the loss of regular visits to your children as well as your grandchildren.

There are a few things you can do to make the separation less arduous:

  • If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, or if you’d like to teach your grandchildren the art of snail mail, make a folder with some paper for very young grandchildren to write notes or draw pictures of their new neighbourhood and friends on. Include some addressed, stamped envelopes (taking account of any looming postal increases) and encourage them to snail mail you at any time.
  • Set up a Skype account or try out Facetime with the kids before they move. It’s a great way of providing a fun and reassuring way of them keeping in touch whenever they like.
  • Create a photo album or a framed photo collage with all the great times you’ve shared.
  • Give your grandchildren a special possession for safekeeping and to remember you by.
  • Provide the recipe for one your grandchildren’s favourite treats or meals.

Finally, it’s important to let children know that they’ll always be in your heart and in your thoughts, that their future holds exciting new adventures that will also include you, and that you have a pact to find ways to stay in contact and strengthen your bond until you see each other again next time.

Have you had particular success in helping grandchildren adjust to moving away?