How do I tell my children we are moving?
July 25, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

We are moving to the out of the country soon, and I'd like advice on how to tell my kids. What I've found online at other sites has been....less than helpful, so any personal advice or good links appreciated. Possibly relevant details inside.

We are moving from the NYC area to Holland. Messrs Primates Jr are, respectively, 8 and 6, and we will be sending them to a regular Dutch school (both are functionally fluent). We will be living relatively close to my wife's extended family.

This is a follow on of this question.
posted by digitalprimate to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You are over-thinking this. Hey kids, we are moving. I went through 10 times growing up, several times overseas. It's only a traumatic event for the kid when the parents make it a traumatic event. Otherwise, it's an adventure.
posted by COD at 12:57 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

Well, why are you moving? Is it as easy as "hey, there's this wonderful opportunity...." ? If so, just explain it.
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2011

I moved a lot as a kid. The worst "hey, we're moving" moment was the day I was sitting in my dad's living room in California and my mother told me, over the phone, that we'd be leaving the Connecticut house I adored for middle of nowhere Ohio, a month after I got back from the summer with my dad.

Basically, everything went wrong.

1. This was ridiculously impersonal. Over the phone? No.
2. My mom was busy being mad that we had to move again, such that she didn't notice how upset I was.
3. No "and we'll find a musical theatre program for you to join there" or "and this is the Sea Cadet troop you'll now be a part of" or "the wicked awesome museum you loved when we visited years ago, we can go every week" assurances were forthcoming.
4. I had, like, no time to prepare before we left. I actually only had about six weeks' notice.

(I was 15, and dealing with split custody stuff, but my sisters were just as unhappy and they were 9 and 6 and lived with our mom full-time.)

Anyway. Be supportive, calm, honest, and encouraging. Try and figure out what they'll miss and help them deal with it. Promise to help them stay connected to friends back home (and actually do it.) Find out if there's anything they really want to do in NYC before you go. Recognize that this is actually an even bigger deal for kids than for adults, because they are totally powerless and you are making that super, super obvious with this announcement (not your fault - it's just how it is, and you should be aware of it.)
posted by SMPA at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sit the kids down and tell them together, letting them know that this is something you've been thinking about for a while, not a rash, impulsive move, and let them know why you have come to this decision.

Then tell them that you know this is a big deal, and the decision is final, but the two of you want to make this as easy as possible for them. Then ask them how they feel, sit back and listen to their concerns.

Make it clear that later on, after it sinks in more, you'll be there to talk about whatever, too.

That's the best you can do for them, really.
posted by misha at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep it upbeat and make it seem like a grand adventure and they will be fine. If you confront them with a tone that sounds like they are going to a funeral they will probably not take it well. The biggest concern for any kid will be losing their friends and the ability to make new ones. Keep lines of communications open by making sure they have emails/skype of their friends here. Maybe set up a blog for them to allow them to document the move which could be therapeutic.
posted by JJ86 at 1:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be honest, and do your best to prepare for the questions (some of which may seem totally unrelated to your adult brain) that will come after. You don't say if there are difficult circumstances involved, but even if they are I think your messaging should be strictly "This is going to be SO COOL!"

Don't sit them down and say, "So, how you would feel about moving to The Netherlands?" You're not giving them an option. There are other ways to say you care about how they feel about it, but don't make them think they're getting to (or HAVING TO) make this decision if they aren't. (Personal pet peeve, my mom used to spring all kinds of shit on my that way, so that coming up with an answer to her question was far more important than my actual feelings or questions.)

Don't blow off their concerns, and don't make fun of any weird concerns. You may get woken up by a tearful face at the side of your bed at 3am worried that there will be bears or no electricity or they won't be allowed to take their favorite sneakers. And it may be real fears about being the new kid at school or their Dutch not being good enough or missing their friends.

There probably are books about moving away, not necessarily overseas. I think when you're younger than mid-teens (when there are additional concerns about driving, going off to school, etc) moving to another country isn't immensely different than moving to another state.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I agree with the advice to treat this like an awesome adventure that the family will undertake together. I remember taking the news of an intercontinental move at that age just fine. In fact, I remember being wildly disappointed that my parents canceled the move, to the point that I would often imagine "what life would have been like if..."
posted by samthemander at 1:27 PM on July 25, 2011

Mine were older when we moved interstate but I joined MetaFilter to ask this similar question and got lots of good advice in return. I then asked this question, and MeFi came through in a big way.
posted by headnsouth at 1:56 PM on July 25, 2011

Seconding COD: those kids are way too little to have more than a fleeting concern about the move. I wouldn't stress over it. YMMV anecdote: I remember moving a few times during those ages, crying about how much I'd miss my neighborhood friends, etc., but caring little after the next school year started. Now I can't even remember those friends' names.
posted by resurrexit at 2:18 PM on July 25, 2011

Having botched this exact maneuver a couple times, I can confidently say that there's some good advice in this thread.
posted by zomg at 2:34 PM on July 25, 2011

I was a shy, timid child, but I took long-distance moves (including international moves) in my stride at 4, 5, 6 and 7, because I was moving with my family. (At 14 it was a different story.)

Nthing be upbeat. But also, be calm. Try to present moving abroad as an interesting and exciting change that's also something you and your wife are perfectly confident and unworried about. If you don't seem anxious yourselves, you can calm any anxieties they may have much more convincingly.

Make sure to tell them how long you plan to stay in the Netherlands, especially if this is the first time they've moved house and/or you're giving them short notice. When we lived abroad, I always knew that we'd be going back to England at some point, and I also knew my parents wouldn't spring it on me suddenly. So the eventual move back wasn't a shock, and in the meantime I was secure enough to be able to make friends, take school seriously and so on. If you're going for a few years and they're assuming from the outset that it's forever, or vice versa, the resulting miscommunication issues might make the move harder on them.

Assuming they've met and like their grandparents (and/or other extended family), it's worth stressing that they'll get to spend much more time with them. If they've already visited the Netherlands (and were old enough to remember it), it'll probably be very easy to sell them on the move. If not, I'd emphasise anything particularly exciting and different about the new country... storks, perhaps, or sailing boats on the canals? The thing I remember about the "we're moving to SE Asia" talk when I was 5 is my parents telling me how big Komodo dragons were. Giant lizards! Wow! I couldn't wait!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:04 PM on July 25, 2011

Seconding SMPA and misha. I was moved internationally as a tween and it was tough. First because I had no say in the move, and second because my parents were all, "This is an AMAZING opportunity!" and basically brushed aside my concerns (which included the humiliating possibility that I would have to repeat a grade when I returned to the States).

Anyway, be upbeat but don't minimize any of their concerns. I agree that in hindsight the kids will probably not be traumatized about this, but that as it's happening it may be very upsetting for them (loss of friends, familiar places, home, hopes that are tied to geography or cultural norms, etc.).

Unless you've been rigorous about speaking Dutch full time at home, I would expect them to be exhausted by language demands (dialects, idioms, etc.) and the low-level but pervasive differences between cultures. Knowing a language isn't the same as having to swim in it full time.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:11 PM on July 25, 2011

When are you moving? I ask because at that those ages, be warned that there may be THE BIGGEST THING EVER IN THE WORLD happening the day after you've planned the move. But if you know their schedule, and yours, maybe you could work around it. But at least let the kids know the date of the big excitement as soon as possible, so they don't accept an invitation to the RollerUnicornSparkleAstronaut party that's happening the week after you move.

Or you could be like my parents, and announce that some of us (not dad) were moving TOMORROW, which happened to be my seventh birthday, and by the way we weren't taking much in the way of personal goods. Not that I'm bitter!
posted by cyndigo at 3:33 PM on July 25, 2011

Make sure you tell them before they "find out" -- it can be easy to believe that you have complete control over the schedule, but children are very sensitive to shifts in mood in the family, and you never know what random piece of information might filter down to them without your control.
posted by endless_forms at 3:47 PM on July 25, 2011

I'm a big believer in books. Borrow a few books about moving from the library. Sit and read them together. It'll give your kids an easy way to ask questions as they come up and it'll give you a chance to say, "In the book they drive to their new home, but we'll be flying to ours" or "This family has a moving company, but we'll be packing up our things ourselves" or whatever is actually relevant for you.

I recommend When Marcus Moore moved in and er, maybe the Fred Roger's book on moving could be helpful too.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:56 PM on July 25, 2011

I was seven years old when my family moved from downtown toronto to suburban toronto, but in my little seven year old mind, it might as well have been to holland. I had a no frame of reference other than my own, and "north york" might as well have been a black hole. The people who are telling you carte blanche that kids don't think about any of the stuff around moving are dead wrong. If your kids are anything at all like me as a kid, they're going to want reassurance that there are other kids at the new school they'll be attending that they will be friends with (this seems obvious to an adult, but not to kids who only know their own school), that there will be a new ballet class, and a softball team, and an even better park! My family's move was scheduled for the day before my birthday, and i had these incredibly fears and sense of loneliness that my friends wouldn't be able to come to my birthday party because i'd live 'away'. So think about stuff like that (birthdays, sports teams, best friends) that are the kinds of things kids care about (they don't care about the 'big reasons' like details behind your jobs, or family connectness - they care about whether they can bring their train set, and that they can bring their hamster.) My parents had no idea i was scared of the move until i came downstairs crying in the middle of the night because i was so worried about not knowing any kids at the new house.

Try to predict the things they'll be worried about or interested in. Can you show them the website for their new school, and let them look at the pictures of the kids there? Can you show them a map of their new neighborhood, and that the park is really close, and that's where you'll have ballet etc., and tell them you're going to buy stamps and stationery, or they can use skype, or something, to show them that they can keep in touch with friends. And show them a few things that are new and exciting. Basically - don't let them worry.
posted by Kololo at 5:00 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't tell them that "maybe" you're moving and then spring the "oh, hey, we're definitely moving!" bit in a public place. Like at the real estate agent's office. As you're all going out to look at houses.

That seems self-explanatory, but I can assure you that not everyone figures that out.
posted by corey flood at 6:35 PM on July 25, 2011

Be calm and upbeat yourself about it all being a great adventure and they will pick up your attitude.

I would make sure that their language skills are as good as you say, my current SIL moved from Australia to Denmark when she was 11 and her parents assumed she had a good "functional" grasp of Danish, when she got there she ended up put back 2 years at school because her language skills were not good enough and it really dented her esteem and made her think she was dumb for years, when the problem was Danish is a damn hard language to learn.

She also hated going because she had to leave all her toys and most of her personal stuff behind, so that when she landed there nothing was familiar as they sold everything off before they moved. So I'd say with your children being the age they are try and keep routines the same as much as possible and keep familiar things around them be it toys or a bedspread things from their old home to help keep the continuity going until they build their confidence in their new home.

My SIL's move back to Denmark with her family, messed her up so bad she moved back to Australia as soon as she was old enough and barely talks to her family anymore. I think the fact you are concerned about how your children handle the move though means you will be a lot more sensitive to any problems they are having unlike my SIL's folks.
posted by wwax at 9:01 AM on July 26, 2011

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