Child Development: Moving to a New Home with Young Kids

One of the things I love about BabyShrink is the ability get to know some of my readers over time. Tim had questions last year about his son's distaste for haircuts. But I recently heard from him again, with questions about an impending move. Tim is clearly very tuned-in to his kids' developmental needs and seems like a great Dad! I was thrilled to get a couple of updates from him on how things went: Hi Dr. Heather,

I sent you a question last year:

Thanks to some of your suggestions (and, perhaps, the passage of time), he no longer fusses like he used to...although he doesn't necessarily look forward to haircuts.

A new issue that we are dealing with for both my son, now 4, and our 2-year old daughter is our impending move to a new town.

We currently live in a row home that is just around the corner from their daycare center and my place of employment. In three weeks, we are moving about fifteen miles away to a single-family home in a new town. From our perspective, this house offers the kids larger bedrooms (my son's room does not currently allow enough space for a twin bed), a play/family room, a park and playground right across the street, a bigger yard with room for a vegetable garden (something we did last year at our local park) and a short walk to their future elementary school.

Of course, we realize that none of this may matter initially as we turn their world upside down. We've been preparing the kids for months, our son especially, and he's only shown fleeting cues of this upsetting him. He has been acting out a bit more, but we can't tell if it's just part of his normal development or related to the move (or even picking up on our own stress over issues related to the move).

Luckily, they will continue to attend the same daycare, so a big portion of their days will offer a familiar routine. And, both do fairly well when we travel staying in unfamiliar environments or spending weekends with grandparents.

Any advice you can give on making this transition as smooth as possible would be great. Two specific questions I have:

1. The kids will spend a weekend with my mom while we do the bulk of packing and moving, but we plan on spending our final night together in the house. Any thoughts on something special we can do to give them some closure?

2. Should we immediately set up my son's new bed or allow him to keep his familiar toddler bed?

Thanks, Tim

Hi Tim!

Sounds like you have carefully thought through many of the issues. At the ages of your kids, moves can really be fairly simple. You may have a few days of adjustment, but overall, young children do pretty well with moves. They can't understand much in advance, but that's OK. They will base their reaction on YOUR reaction. They'll look to you as parents for how to handle this. If you are organized, confident and excited about the move (and understanding that they may have some reaction), they will likely pick up their cues from you.

In terms of "closure", stick with something simple. Waving "bye bye" to the new house, saying a few simple things like "thank you for being a wonderful house for us!" would be fine. Then really talk up the excitement of the new place.

In terms of the toddler bed, if you have the space, why not give him the choice and set up BOTH beds for awhile? Let him decide where to sleep each night. Some kids need transition time, but others are fine from night one. Experiment and see what works for him.

Did you catch this post from last year about moving? Check this out.

See if that helps, and let me know if you need some more suggestions.

Congrats on the new home!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Here's Tim's first update:

Dear Heather,

Thanks! And congratulations on the new baby!

I'm already feeling better about this. He took pictures of both our old and new house in to school today and seemed to enjoy showing his friends. After school he wanted to take more pictures of the old house "to make a scrapbook." We have some friends who live near the new house, but we don't get to see more than once or twice a year. I'm going to see if we can arrange a playdate so that the kids can see how close they will be. I'm thinking that will give them something else to look forward to.

And Tim's second update: Now that we've been in our new home for a week, I wanted to give you an update. Both my 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter have adjusted nicely, even after throwing in a vacation over Memorial Day weekend.

Before the move, we arranged a play date with some old friends who happen to be new neighbors. The kids had a great time, and Delton eagerly told everyone the next day when he was moving. We explained to Julia how we were packing things to move on a truck, and she kept saying "move" and "truck" over and over that week.

They were fine, other than a few tears the night before our move:

With lots of help from family and friends, we set up their rooms first. New linens and easy-to-reach bookshelves were a hit. And my son went with his new big bed right away.

One surprise awaited them at our new! We are on a corner lot, and both our neighbors have preschoolers who were very eager to meet and play. In fact, they seemed to get together in the adjoining backyards every night after work, and we were all to happy to help their new friendships along.

Now all we need to do is get those boxes unpacked!

Thanks again, Tim

Child Development: Help for a Jealous 3-Year-Old

There are still more people to thank, as I celebrate the first year of BabyShrink. But questions keep pouring in, so I thought I'd post this one today. It's from a mom struggling with the "Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde" attitude change in her 3-year-old, following her new baby's birth: Hi Dr. Heather!

I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 2-month-old son. I was working full-time and had my daughter in daycare (where she was the apple of everyone's eye) up until a few months ago. I stopped working and pulled her out of daycare to spend some "quality time" with her before the baby arrived.

Things were great for the first week or so, and then everything went downhill. I was trying to keep up with daycare by drawing with her, teaching her the alphabet, numbers, and how to write her name and other small words. She had fun in the beginning, but would start to become very upset and not want to have anything to do with it. She also started this "shy" thing. She hides behind me when we go anywhere and doesn't want to talk to family...she tells them she is shy. All of this has led to a lot of frustration between the two of us. I can't understand why she clammed up all of a sudden and have begun to lose my patience. She, obviously, doesn't understand why I am frustrated, which has made it an endless cycle of irritation between us.

After our son arrived, and she began to realize he needs attention as well (I include her with everything I possibly can), life became even more rough for her. She basically does anything for attention, positive or negative. I decided to enroll her in a Montessori school just to get her out of the house and interacting with others again (and I needed some sanity after sleepless nights). This has turned into a chore as well. Getting ready in the mornings is a nightmare. She is the happiest child alive when she first wakes up...then as soon as I try to get her into the morning routine...her world turns upside down. "I don't like this." "I don't want to do that." I mean...she can't even get herself dressed in the mornings! I am also concerned that she is doing everything backwards, upside down, and inside out. Letters, numbers, clothes, name it. Is this an early sign of a learning disability? Could this be the root of our problems? The frustration just builds and builds.

I don't know what to do. I try to nurse my 2-month-old before she wakes up so I can spend some time with her in the mornings (just us)...but everything just blows up in my face.

I love my daughter to pieces and want life to be happy again for her. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you! G.

Hi G.,

I've been there myself. Your little angel becomes a terror when a new baby arrives on the scene. You try hard to arrange for some rare "special attention", but they throw it back in your face. And your daughter is old enough to know which buttons to push to get you upset.

But don't forget that kids REGRESS when a new baby comes on the scene. They also famously behave way worse for you, as opposed to a teacher. So your plans for "keeping up the schooling" after she came home were perhaps doomed to fail.

Getting ready in the morning (or NOT) is also a famous 3-year-old strategy for making parents nuts. So please don't worry that your daughter is unusual or abnormal -- she's not at all, from what you tell me. (Of course I can't evaluate her myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and check with her pediatrician to make sure).

All you can do is DIAL BACK YOUR EXPECTATIONS, try to EMPATHIZE WITH HER SITUATION, and try to TAKE THE EMOTION OUT OF YOUR REACTION TO HER. This doesn't mean you should allow her to monopolize every situation; she needs to remember how to wait her turn and share. But you have to go back several steps in the "lesson plan" for her behavior. She's been hit by a ton of bricks, in terms of a new baby on the scene, and she's old enough to understand how much it jeopardizes her previous place in the sun.

You, as well, are in a different place -- you're exhausted with a new baby, and upset with your daughter. HANG IN THERE. This is sort of a "do whatever works" time. I know you want -- and need -- some kind of routine and predictability, but right now, you just need to get through each day as reasonably as possible. If she wears her pajamas to Montessori once in awhile -- so what? If she's late sometimes -- so what? She's only 3.

Focus on what she IS doing right. Praise her mightily when she behaves "like a big girl who knows how to wait for her turn so nicely". Make her into your "helper" with her brother, and point out what she is able to do -- and what he's NOT yet able to do. When she regresses into a tantrumming 2-year-old, take a deep breath and try not to over-react. YES, she knows better, but she's just not capable of it that second. Don't take it personally, just deal with her as a 2-year-old in that moment. And when she's a little angel again, don't hold a grudge, even if she was a little devil only a minute ago (easier said than done, I know, but keep trying).

About her doing everything backwards and inside-out; it's tough to say, but usually we don't diagnose a formal learning problem until second grade. She's obviously upset with you, and she knows it makes you upset when she does things backwards. So again, dial back your expectations and let that stuff go for awhile. You will have plenty of formal schooling time and firm rules for school in her future, but relax while she's still in preschool. Try to get in some fun "big girl time" when she is open to it, but don't put the pressure on her that "the baby is asleep and so we have to make the most of our time together!" If it happens, it happens. If not, maybe next time.

HANG IN THERE, and let us know how it goes.

Click here for a related post; this on one a 5-year-old who started hitting her new baby brother.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Parenting Tips: Advice for Traveling with Young Children

Whew! We've made it back from our trip to California. Even though we're still unpacking, I'm thrilled that the trip was so fantastic -- our best yet. I've been thinking about what made it such a success, and here are some of the tidbits I thought I'd share: EXPECTATIONS. Have very few. The greater your expectations, when traveling with young kids, the greater your disappointment. Case in point: On one of our Disneyland days, I literally went on NOT ONE SINGLE RIDE, and I'm a huge Disney fan. My goals for the day were far more basic: Make sure the snack situation was in order for hungry-at-any-moment kids. Scope out an air-conditioned store in advance to hang out with a napping 2-year-old in a stroller. Strategize with Hubby so as to avoid the parade crowds, and get the kids on the rides they most wanted to do. My reward: Everyone had a great day, despite the huge crowds.

PLAN FOR ADULT FUN. We worked very hard to juggle the schedules of family and friends in order to arrange a Vegas trip -- without the kids. I don't even gamble; I didn't play ONE SINGLE GAME. (I'm starting to sound a bit boring, aren't I?) But we got to have lovely sit-down meals with the best of friends, enjoy an amazing show, and sleep in two days in a row. All of this made the other struggles of the trip easy to manage, because I knew we had a fun reward coming up. (Here's a photo for you DGM fans.)Good Friends in Vegas

MAKE TIME FOR THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE. We have close friends and lots of family in Cali. Simply arranging days to let the cousins and kid friends play together was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip. Nothing fancy, just hanging out. Playing at the park, or in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard. The time together is already building a foundation of closeness among the kids that's priceless.

DON'T FREAK OUT ABOUT TRAVEL DAYS. Yes, traveling with kids is challenging. Yes, getting to the airport, dealing with TSA, snotty airline employees (and child-free passengers), delays, car seats and rental cars all add up be quite ridiculously impossible, at times. I know of which I speak: Last year, we were trapped in an airport for 11 (yes, eleven) hours with our kids, then ages 6, 4 and 1. The delay meant that we would have to do an unanticipated red-eye flight to the mainland; 5 1/2 hours, and we would arrive at our destination at 5am. And by then I was out of diapers, had one old bottle left, and no food. How did we handle it? I have no idea. I've blocked it, like any other traumatic experience!

Seriously, it's a day (or two) of hell, and you just get through it. If you need help, start asking airport or airline employees. Many of them will play dumb, but others will be able to help; last year we had to ask 4 or 5 different workers for someone to help us get from one terminal to the other with 2 sleeping kids and 12 bags. Eventually, a guy came with one of those cool electric carts to whisk us to our gate. We've had all sorts of problems with airplane seating; being assigned a "1-4" configuration with 3 little kids, and other inanities; we just start asking workers (and even other passengers) for advice and help, and eventually, things are usually worked out. DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. BE NICE AND APOLOGETIC TO FELLOW TRAVELERS, who often take pity and can make things easier. Look for little, unexpected moments of relief: the computer terminals now available in many airports offer endless interest to toddlers, even if they never get to navigate off the "pay now" page. Get some ice, a couple of cups, and let the little ones at it; I have no idea why, but they seem to LOVE ice in paper cups. Find an uncrowded area away from the action, and let the kids go crazy. Run races, play tag, change stinky diapers...make yourself at home. And when you finally get to your destination, it's a day of recovery, and then you're off and enjoying your vacation!

Lots of you ask whether it's worth the hassle to travel with young kids. I say GO FOR IT, as long as you manage your expectations, plan for some adult fun, pace yourself on travel days, and stay light on your feet in response to the kids' needs. And don't forget to take lots of photos and videos; in addition to being awesome reminders of these precious days with the little ones, you can keep the kids entertained all the way back home by reviewing them (over, and over, and over....)

Do you have other tips for making traveling with little kids more manageable? Do tell!

Parenting Tips: Do I Have Childhood "Baggage" About Moving?

Hello Dr. Heather, My husband and I have a 6-year-old son, a 4-year-old daughter, and a baby due in early August. We are moving across the country about two weeks after I have the baby. My husband will be attending graduate school in our new city. We were settled here and I'm having a really hard time with this. The kids are, too, though not as much as me. My daughter threw a penny in the fountain the other day and said "I wish we didn't have to move." My son was really looking forward to starting first grade with his kindergarten friends, and he's quite upset from time to time, although not every day. Currently, we are still searching for a place to live there, and we have just sold our home here, which we all love, and so everything feels so unsettled.  I moved in the middle of second grade and still remember how traumatized I was by it, although my dad had lost his job, so there were some other difficulties going on in my family. I don't want to project my childhood onto them, in addition to the sadness I'm feeling now.

My question is, how do I make this transition go as smoothly as it can for them, and how much does my sadness about this situation transfer to them?


You can call me "Emily".

Dear "Emily",

Did you see my recent post about moving?  I'm getting lots of questions like that at this time of year.

I do understand your concerns; it's a big deal for me too; we moved several times in my childhood, and I am pretty sensitive about the issue. Uprooting your life is no small thing. The familiarity of your routine, the process of making new friends, adjusting to new jobs and schools; it's harder than most people realize. But for young kids, it's a lot easier.

It sounds to me like the challenge is going to be more for you, not the kids. Wow, Mama, you have your hands full! Moving 2 weeks post-baby? With 2 other little kids? Yowza! That's a huge job, physically and emotionally. And your past negative experience with moving is likely to haunt you, to some degree.

YES, your kids totally pick up on your emotional reaction to the move. You (and their Dad) are their main emotional signposts, at least until they get to about second grade. In order to get through this with as little stress as possible, you need to lean on your husband as well as anyone else you can; family? Friends? Clergy?  Don't hold back on asking for help.

Do you have any risk factors for postpartum depression? Please keep that in mind, especially in the 2-week-plus-postpartum period, when PPD is most likely to strike. That much change and stress -- moving and a new baby, with two little ones, a whole new city, as well as your own childhood history of the difficult all raises your risk for depression. Ask your husband to help monitor your mood as well. Make sure you hook up with an OB/GYN as soon as you get to your new city -- and make sure you go in for a checkup. There are lots of resources available online to help you find a counselor if you need one.

Try to look at it all as an adventure. Help the kids see how to handle change in a positive way. Look at this as an opportunity to have a "re-do" on your own negative childhood experience of moving. This is not the same thing as when you were a kid; this is not an unfortunate turn of events that you all have to live with. This is you and your hubby making a decision for the ultimate good of the family. You have a chance to do it again...but different. Better.

Good luck with everything and keep us posted!


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Will Moving To A New House Be Too Stressful For My Child?

Dear Dr. Heather, I'm a full time single dad of a 5 1/2 year-old girl.  I have a great career, and she is happy and doing very well in school. I've decided to move again; the 3rd place in 3 years, all within the same neighborhood. Each time has been for "upgrades". So we will have a yard to play in and not have to deal with the apartment living we are most used to here in LA. My question is, will all this moving create any problems for her, emotionally, at her age?

Thanks, Rich

Hi Rich,

First of all, GO DAD! I love to hear about Dads like you who are considering psychological issues in the development of their kids. The fact that you are asking the question tells me you're on the right track!

Now, the issue of moving: I’ve been getting this kind of question a lot lately, as lots of families move during the summer. At this age, your daughter is basically still tied to YOU, as her anchor in the world. The house is secondary, at best. What's best for YOU is best for HER. If you are happy, she will be, too.

Your attitude about moving is also important. Approach it like an adventure, and involve her in the process as much as you can. Let her make choices about anything reasonable, like paint colors, or how to set up her room. Ask her about any down sides; what does she miss about the last house? Let her talk about it. Just listen. Maybe there's nothing; maybe there's something. Let her know that her feelings do matter to you, regardless. You may not change anything, based on her feelings, but she WILL know you took her seriously.

Your best guide is to observe her behavior. A little regression following a move is normal. Sleep habits might go out the window, temporarily. She may be more clingy or temperamental. Talk to her about the feelings you suspect might be underneath the behavior. But it sounds like she's a PRO at moving, and I doubt it will be too difficult. She likely will bounce back very quickly.

But soon, her school and friends are going to become important...VERY important. And then, you will want to think twice about moving her around, especially if it affects her school placement. I would start thinking about her elementary school situation, and where you want her to be. Consider the neighborhood in terms of kids her age and other kid-friendly features like parks. Start thinking about a longer-term living situation, where she can feel settled, and try to stay, if you can. Moving when your daughter is older is bound to cause more stress for her. Good luck!

And for more on Dads, check out these BabyShrink posts.


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink