Relocating with a toddler? Talk amongst yourselves.

Sean just got a new job, and he, his wife, and their two year-old son have moved to a new town. The going is rough. Says Sean:

The poor little guy just will not stop acting out and crying at daycare and at home.  He is really confused and we are trying all we can.

I'm so sorry, Sean. There are bound to be bumps as your son gets his bearings in his new surroundings, but there must be ways to ease the transition for all of you. A place to start: Last summer, Moxie of Ask Moxie hosted a discussion about moving with small children and had lots of good advice and comments.

Anyone with "moving with toddler" tales to share? Any hard-earned wisdom to impart?


  1. margaret says

    You have my sympathies! Having once moved a toddler from one city to another and then moving her back less a year later, this is what we found helped–with the first move.

    Let the kid know that you’re still adjusting, too, and that the whole family is in this together. For example, when you go into the grocery store, you can say: “I keep forgetting the fruit is to the right, not the left like at our old store!”

    Point out all the great things about your new home that weren’t in your old one. Does the park have a fountain? Can you walk to get ice cream?

    Do you live near some great kid attraction? Even if you hate crowds, gird yourself for a destination day trip. A day at the zoo and another day at an amuesement park had our child thinking maybe the move wasn’t so bad after all!

    Also, remember that some of it is probably normal 2-year-old behavior, but I know it can be hard to tell which is adjustment and which is being a two-year-old!

  2. Kristi says

    Last summer we packed our van and drove 10 hours to our new home the day we closed on our previous one. Our children were 2 1/2 and 18 months, and I was 7 months pregnant with our third! Aside from the moving company accidentally rerouting our stuff and half of it (our beds) getting to the house 2 weeks late (!), it was a pretty good transition. During the first month we took frequent trips to their grandparents’ house – they were now closer to them, which made it more chaotic but helped them realize the stability that their family was not going away with the move.

    We also got plugged in to a really great church, and all of their new friends were welcoming and it especially helped our oldest. We did the same at the local library by joining their toddler time, and that helped them take interest in something new.

    Spending more time reading books before bedtime and doing special things in the neighborhood were great to help them adjust – meeting couples with other young kids, etc.

    You could also see about taking a day to spend the morning or afternoon with him @ the daycare and see if that helps. He will surely call it home in a few more weeks or months. I think the thing they want to know more than anything is that mommy and daddy are not going to move away, too! Hang in there!

  3. Suzi says

    We moved 1800 miles with an almost-two-year old last winter. We talked about the changes for a long time, and even though she couldn’t articulate her feelings to us it seemed to help her understand that we were listening and trying to make it easier for her.

    She loved to look at pictures of our old house, our friends, and the neighborhood we left. We made a lot of phone calls, too, so she could hear familiar voices. It helped.

    Mostly it took time to settle into new routines. It was almost three months before our toddler had a normal sleeping and eating schedule again.

  4. JT says

    We didn’t move that far, but two years ago June we left the city for the burbs. We ended up finding an apartment with an almost-identical layout to our previous one, but our then two-year-old took the move really hard. I don’t think he slept at all that summer.

    One thing I think my kids enjoyed was that I tried to come home at a decent hour after work, and would take the boys for a walk around our new neighborhood. We sometimes went to Starbucks or another local place for a treat, or stopped at the nearest playground, or just went exploring. We could all get our bearings and learn the lay of the land, and the boys and I got to spend good time together.

    It took most of that summer, but eventually, everyone settled in just fine.

    Of course, now we’re considering moving again, so wish me luck…

  5. megan64 says

    We moved with our 2.5 y.o twins to France for a year and then back to California for 7 months and we’ll be moving back to France again for 7 months in October. We talked about the move a lot and what we would do there; what our new house would be like, basically talked about moving and the process a lot. We read kids books about moving and plane rides, asked questions: “where are we now?” looked at old pictures, “where were we in this picture?”

    I think being mobile can be a good thing, just like staying in one place can. We didn’t have any problems with the move or the plane ride – they’ve always been good sleepers and get along well together. I guess it may have helped that there were two of them.

  6. hedra says

    Speaking as a geographer and a mom, and as someone who both moved several times in early childhood and who knows a lot of people who have moved with small children…

    1) Sense of place is an attachment issue – children may not be able to articulate it, but they may feel safe in part because of their sense of place: how the air feels, where the sunlight falls, the smells, sounds, colors, sights, the entire sensory package. Uprooting that is for some kids a non-issue, and for others is comparable to a death in the family. Include those sensory parts in the discussion/reminiscence of old/new. (I know people who made ‘memory books’ of favorite places/things with the kids – even a favorite spot in the yard, a tree, the way the clouds form, those can be really affecting.)

    2) Allow for grief. No need to expect it, but note it in yourself and verbalize it, and if you see signs in them, help them express it.

    3) Articulate the joys, too. New is cool, amazing, awesome, as well as confounding, confusing, and bewildering.

    4) Expect adjustments to take time at least at the first go-round (kids learn skills at this just like skills at other things – being mobile often provides the chance to really learn those skills well). The teachers at the school one of my friends kids moved to had seen MANY kids go through there (common transfer-for-3-years site), and found that if there was an in-culture transfer (that is, same language, style, foods, attitudes, expectations, etc.), it would take about 6 months for most kids to adapt fully. If there was a cultural issue as well (even without a language change) then expect a year. Anything faster than that is great, but give a good long track for the expectation of full adaptation, so you don’t stress out that they’re still disrupted a month from now.

    5) Reminisce. Talking about the old, showing pictures, calling/visiting, those are all good ways of handling the issue. Just like you’d do if grandma moved away, or even if a grandparent died. You tell the stories, show the pictures, incorporate the old in the current life pattern so that its value is honored. Addressing the change openly makes the change safer, makes it clear that everyone has to adjust (it isn’t just me, I’m not alone), and makes it safe to feel sad about the losses – and when it is safe to feel sad, it also becomes safe to feel happy.

    More TLC of course isn’t a bad idea. More story time, more time together, etc. But also no reason to go crazy on it, which just sets the impression that somehow this is MUCH WORSE than it seems (“we have to be extra careful, because anything could fall apart at any time because it is SO BAD!”). More important, IMHO, is just being patient, calm, and open as the pains vent and the joys accumulate and everyone adjusts.

    Oh, and for me, it took a full year for the entire process of adapting to a new place to ‘set’, no matter my age. I am sensitive to the change of seasons, and I had to experience each one as new, and then the second time that season in the new place came around, it was ‘oh, yeah, this I remember’… that was important to me.

  7. Adrian says

    third move in a year. Just got off the phone with a realtor as both boys wrestled and the three year old shrieked in protest. Why do they only act like this when I’m on the phone?? And why is a poopie diaper disaster always before a house showing? They are ANGELS the resto of the time. Cannot wait to get this move over with. Cannot. wait.

  8. Ava says

    This is really timely, as my 2-year-old son and I are moving from Greece to the US in a month. He’s used to travelling, so I wasn’t too worried about it, but he just hit the “must control my environment” phase. We spend last weekend out of town and he basically refused to eat the whole weekend.

    We’ll be closer to family that he mostly only sees via webcam, so I’m hoping that helps. I think the big issue is that his father and our cat won’t be joining us for a couple months, and he will miss them a lot. We plan to do a lot of webcam conversations. Otherwise, I’m hoping the new experiences offset the negatives.

    And of course, he’s clearly ready to start potty training now. I’ve decided to wait until after the move, but we’ll see.

  9. Sharon says

    Moving with small children is tough on everyone. Last year we moved with two small children (a two-year old and a three-year old) Both willfull and independent. The best advice I have is that you remain consistent in your parenting. I noticed that I tried to relax the rules and be understanding but all it really did was confuse them more. We were excited and explained why this move was so great. We were able to do things we couldn’t before. We focused on the positives and when they missed people we were understanding. We stuck to a schedule and within a week we had happy obedient children. Good Luck!

  10. Meetu says

    I’moving on this 20th to NewJersey with my 15month old,its going to be very difficult cos already with the house getting empty he is getting some vibes and is fussy,overstimulated..wonder whats going to happen once we reach.You cant even have a conversation with him,too young to understand….tipswill be appreciated :)

  11. Sean says

    Thanks so much for all this advice. He has [I helped ask for help on this matter] been doing a lot better. We did the photo album, we keep taking him by the house that we are closing on [we bought the model, so we go in about 3 times a week] and talking about his new room; phone calls to family; The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day & Rosa’s Room are read almost everynight! Fortunatly we are in N.VA, close the DC and he loves airplanes, so that is what we are doing this weekend (tip about local attractions). We are in temp housing so it is hard to just settle completly until the last move, but he is doing 110% better. I think it is me that needs the R&R now.

  12. Jessica says

    We moved a month ago with our then-21-month-old son. My mom and stepdad had scoped out a new daycare for him, but even during the first week there it was apparent it was not a good fit for him. By the end of the first week I had a tour and appointment somewhere else — a place that turned out to be much better for him.

    (There was another little boy at the original place whose first day was the same day as my son’s first day. He cried the whole time I was there and no one made any move to comfort him. The next day one of the teachers called him a “whiner.” I wish I were kidding.)

    The new place did a much better job of acclimating my boy to the new environment and people and paid attention to him during his initial moments of shyness. He is so much happier, and again he sometimes isn’t ready to leave when we come to pick him up.

    When he was at the first place he was acting out. But now he’s his old self again.