Even though I empathize with Austin, it’s important to avoid throwing an all-out pity party. “Your kids look to you for cues. So if you’re positive, they’ll have a sense that everything will be okay,” says Tammy Gold, founder of Gold Parent Coaching, in Short Hills, New Jersey. But for kids over the age of 3, it’s also important for them to see your feelings of sadness and how you manage those emotions constructively. Just don’t overdo the downsides. “Negativity rubs off on your child, so don’t bad-mouth the new place or compare your new home with your old one. Try to highlight wonderful things about your brand-new town so your kids will look forward to it,” Gold says.
Another way to ease the adjustment is to maintain some of your old routines. “Keeping up rituals like family meals or game night can build a sense of consistency that’s reassuring,” says Katie Novick, a therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts. For babies and toddlers, provide as much continuity as you can by maintaining the same bedtime rituals in the same order, says Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., a school psychologist in Oceanside, New York, and director of the New York Association for Play Therapy. Maybe moving 5-month-old Addy into a different crib and using new bedding contributed to her fitful nights? Once I got this advice, I dug through some boxes to find her old crib sheets and put them on. Within a few days her sleep had improved dramatically. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’ll take it.
As the oldest child, Avery has always liked to be in control — but my opinionated 5-year-old had exactly zero input in our decision to move. Could that be a reason for her rage at me? “Definitely, and you can ease some of it by finding things that she can make decisions about while you settle in,” says Burgan. After hearing that, I had Avery “approve” my choice of rug and bedding for her room, but that wasn’t exactly something she cared a lot about. So after many requests for a pet, we gave in and let her have two fish. Now when she gives people a tour of her new home, her aquarium is the first stop.
During a recent trip to the new playground, Austin ambled up the ladder to the slide. As he was about to go down, he yelled, “Uh-oh, Mommy.” I stood at the bottom, watching with wide eyes as a stream of yellow liquid came from beneath his pants. My almost-4-year-old, who had been potty trained at age 2, had backslid on the slide. “Gross!” yelled a 7-year-old girl who watched the event unfold. Mortified, I fled the scene with my soaking son in tow. “A temporary regression is a natural way for young kids to deal with a stressful situation,” Burgan says, adding that I should, ahem, go with the flow and not freak out. “Intense feelings about a move can also lead to sleep disruption, appetite change, clinginess, and tantrums,” says Dr. Zelinger. “Don’t rush them into accommodating you. They will adjust at their own pace. But if those feelings persist for more than a few months or interfere with everyday activities, check with your pediatrician,” she says.
Be sure to give your children lots of opportunities to meet new pals. This might be the time to let your kid sign up for as many activities as he wishes. You want your child to try out new experiences with different groups until he finds the ones who click. As for finding some mom friends, if your schedule permits arrive early to chat up other parents; kindergarten pickup has helped me make three solid friends in the time I’ve been here. Volunteer to be a room parent, join a local club, or throw a housewarming party, whose new neighbor hosted a huge bash with a bouncy house for the kids and watermelon mojitos for the adults. “Everyone wanted to come!” Dr. Borba says. “She had all the guests fill out an index card with their phone numbers and e-mail address, so she instantly had a lot of new contacts.”
Now, six months since we dropped anchor, we’re all getting our sea legs. Avery adores her school, Wes is excited by his work, and I’m starting to love the flexibility of writing when the kids are in school, then shuttling them to playdates and soccer practice. Addy, of course, has been growing just fine, but it’s Austin who has had the most surprising turnaround, thanks to a bond with his classmate Will. The boys have become inseparable, able to play for hours without a whine. Will’s friendship, it seems, has given Austin the grounding he needs, and my preschooler’s wide smile is back on his face, brighter than ever.