Written by Doctor G

Moving is Hard

  Hi Dr. G! We moved with our 4-year-old son 5 months ago, about 30 minutes away. He was very excited about the move and our new house, until it happened, and then he experienced a lot of anxiety. He is adjusting, and now he only asks to go “home to his old house” occasionally. We have been explaining to our son that we cannot go back to the old house because it does not belong to us anymore. We fibbed a little and said another family is living there. However, as a funny turn of events, it took us so long to sell our old house that my husband’s sister and her husband purchased it. So, our son will be going back to his old house again, just now to see his aunt and uncle! Do you think he’ll be upset about going back there (or about having to go home again to the new house after the visit)? Thanks so much!

Kim, in NJ

Kim, congratulations on your move and finally selling your old house!

There is no way of knowing if your son will be upset about someone else living in your old house. What’s important to keep in mind is that it doesn’t actually matter if he is upset. What matters is what he learns from the experience.

It is impossible to control our kids’ emotions, no matter how much we want to as parents. Experiencing unpleasant or hard emotions as a kid is crucial – it teaches several important points.

  • Hard emotions happen.
  • We survive feeling badly and eventually feel good again.
  • We can help ourselves start to feel better faster if we…
    • Talk about our feelings.
    • Listen to others.
    • Leave room for happiness even when we’re sad.

Your son is learning that incredibly important skill – how to be resilient.  He has already shown you some resilience by being more positive about your new home (after his adjustment time). This will test his resilience, but that is what happens in life.

How can you help?

  1. Give him the space to be frustrated, sad, jealous, whatever he feels. Telling others how they feel or how they should feel doesn’t usually help, or work!
  2. Show empathy without apologizing or trying to “fix” it. You hurt when he hurts, but apologizing sends the message that you made a mistake in moving, and that is probably not the truth, or the message you want him to hear. He will learn resilience by riding out these feelings and seeing how they change with time.
  3. Make your expectations clear. If he can choose when he wants to visit, fine. If you have a visit planned, just let him know. He can express his feelings to you, the good and the bad, and you will listen. Make sure he knows that good behavior is still important.

Your son will learn from this, and he will be OK.

One last suggestion – don’t “fib” to your son if you don’t want him to lie to you. We often tell our kids things that aren’t true to protect them from hard feelings (or protect ourselves from feeling guilty) but it’s almost never a good idea, even though it would be SO much easier!

You might want to ask your son what he thinks would make a great house warming gift for his aunt and uncle – he may have some great suggestions!


Anyone else have kids who struggled with a move?


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2 thoughts on “Moving is Hard”

  1. Thank you so much for the insightful answer to my question!

    The first visit to our old house happened before your response, but it went just fine. When I told my son that his aunt and uncle had moved into our old house, he got the giggles. It was so fantastic that he saw the humor in it, and not just the loss. The first visit was a rousing success.

    We have definitely learned our lesson about fibbing to our son. It’s bad for all of us, and it underestimates what he can handle.

    Thanks again!

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