Big Moves = Big Feelings
“Why do we have to move? It’s not fair! I’ll never see my friends again!”. Do you have children? If so, have you ever gone through the process of moving with them? Were there emotional outbursts, constant confusion, or perhaps repetitive moments of the above?
As an educator for many years, I have a deep respect for children. They are fascinating little humans, trying to make sense of the world as they explore it. One thing that sets adults apart from children is that children have the ability to be so intricately immersed in their feelings. They cannot reason themselves out of their feelings like we often do. A child is stuck to their feelings the same way peanut butter sticks to jelly. This ability to feel so deeply isn’t a bad thing; in fact pulling a page from a child’s book may actually be healthy for us as we constantly reason ourselves in and out of emotional situations. This amazing skill to feel, instead of ignore;, is often a child’s outreach to let us know that they don’t understand something or they are not being understood.
“Grown ups never understand anything by themselves and it is tiresome for children to continually explain things to them.” (de Saint-Exupery, 2018). Does this mean that children are always right? Absolutely not. It does beg the question though, why are children always repeating themselves (often in frustration)? Are we truly listening to them in order to be responsive to their needs – or are we just responding to them to provide our answer. “Because we are moving, that’s what we have decided, there’s nothing else to discuss!” Oh yes, pardon my discourse on the original topic. Considering this discourse, how can we support children in the moving process? Of course, this question largely depends on where a child falls on the developmental trajectory, however one might consider that a teenager is almost emotionally invested in their feelings as a four year old. The simple statement “but it’s not fair!” is true at sixteen and four.
So how do we help children deal with these big emotions that may be associated with the process of moving? Here are a few strategies that might be helpful:
1) Self-awareness. Be aware of your own emotions. Reflect, how are you feeling about the moving process? Children are always watching and listening. Could you be projecting your feelings onto your children?
2) Observe. Is your child acting different? Take your child’s emotions seriously. They are often experiencing similar emotions in the moving process as you are. If it’s not easy for you, it’s definitely not easy for them.
3) Listen. Really Listen! How is your child feeling? Why are they feeling like this? Let your child know that you hear them. Reflect back to your child what they said to ensure you understand their feelings and their interpretation of the situation. So it sounds like you are feeling________because you won’t see your friends as often. Is that right?
4) Ask for more information. Ask a variety of questions open-ended and close ended to gain clarity of the situation. When we are upset our prefrontal cortex does not remember thoughts as easily. Probing for more information may fill in missing valuable information.
5) Brainstorm collaborative solutions. Nobody, including children, wants to be told what to do. Children want to feel understood and that they can provide value. Focus on what you can do in the situation, not what you can’t.
Obviously you can’t change the reality that you are moving, but what can you do to make the process easier for you and your little one(s).
Some examples are:
1) Have a conversation with them early. Children are often most responsive to a situation when they have time to plan and manage their emotions with your support.
2) Be honest. Explain what changes this will mean for them (change in schools, friends etc.).
3) Include them in the preparation process. What steps can they help with? (e.g., cleaning, packing).
4) Mark important dates on the calendar and explain what they mean (e.g., a showing, picture day, packing day).
5) Answer their questions. Sometimes things that seem like second nature to us are new details for children.
6) Research or drive around the new neighbourhood. Ask your child(ren) what they like about it? What excites them?
7) Schedule play dates with old and new friends.
8) Check-in. Have you ever felt fine about moving and then felt unsure? The same is true for children.
My biggest tip is to stay positive! Moving can be a stressful process. Find a way to lower your stress (e.g., exercise, talking about it with a close friend). Children of all ages are watching and listening; what we say and do matters. Lastly, the next time your child has an outburst about moving, consider “Children are allowed to make a big deal out of things that feel really big to them.” (Borisevich, 2021)
Sales Representative, Re/Max Escarpment -The Golfi Team
Master of Education in Developmental Psychology – University of Toronto.
de Saint-Exupéry, A. (2018). The little prince: A new translation by Michael Morpurgo.
Borisevich, A.[@Empowered.Parenting]. (2021, June 21). So often, children have big
responses to seemingly little things. Instagram.