- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2010

As the summer winds down, some parents and children are busy preparing for the big day. No, not the first day of school, but moving day.

Rushing to close on and move into a new home before the new school year begins is a familiar experience around this time of year for parents of school-age children.

The busiest moving season is from about the second week in June to the end of August, right before school starts, according to Phil Warner, director of business development at Ward North American Moving in Dulles, Va.

Experts say it’s easy for kids to get lost in the shuffle as the boxes are being packed and last-minute details are getting settled. They say it’s important to include children, from toddlers to teenagers, in the process of moving to a new home.

Child behavior experts say children experience a wide range of emotions that can go from excitement to anxiety.

“Moving is a big adjustment for the whole family, but children are particularly vulnerable to confusion, anger and grief, as they may not be able to comprehend the ‘big picture’ of how the move will benefit the family,” says Carrie Singer, a clinical psychologist in Alexandria, Va.

Moving also often involves leaving a safe, secure base where a child has been raised and formed cherished memories, Ms. Singer says. She advises parents to give children as much notice as possible about the potential move date so they have time for closure.

“Having a going-away party, even if you’re only moving a few blocks, sends the message that the change is worth celebrating and solidifies the reality of the impending transition,” Ms. Singer says.

John Heithaus knows firsthand how stressful moving can be; he has moved eight times in his career, five of those times with children in tow. As a relocation expert and chief marketing officer of the Multiple Regional Information System, Mr. Heithaus says moving into a new home should be a family affair.

“It used to be that when dad was promoted, the kids all just sucked it up and moved,” he says.

“The greater challenge today is that kids are a lot more empowered and connected,” Mr. Heithaus says, adding that a teenager may not want to move schools because he is on the valedictorian track and another child may be concerned about leaving a competitive sports team.

“Moving today involves multiple agendas requiring family meetings,” says Mr. Heithaus, who suggests families take a military-style approach to moving by mapping out the situation. He says the difference in moving today versus a decade or so ago is the wealth of resources and tools available on the Internet.

Experts say getting children plugged into the community - even before the actual move - can help. Mr. Heithaus‘ son enjoys playing soccer, so before his move to the Washington area, he was able to find a North Bethesda team, e-mail the coach and register for the team, all before moving.

“The key is to gather information and share it with your entire family,” Mr. Heithaus says.

New mapping technology also has made it easy to go online and look at places around your new neighborhood, which is especially convenient for long-distance moves. While the Internet can be helpful, however, Mr. Heithaus says there’s also a lot of bad or misleading information online, and he says the Internet shouldn’t replace being on the ground and driving around your new community.

“Take your child[ren] to visit their new school in advance, explore your new neighborhood and identify key points of interest, like playgrounds,” Ms. Singer says.

Moving day itself is one of the toughest times for families. Typically, Mr. Warner says, children aren’t around the home when his team is packing up a house on moving day. From a mover’s standpoint, it’s better that way, he says. However, he says his employees are professionals and know how to work around the children.

When kids are in the picture on moving day, he says, they often get a kick out of the movers showing them the back of the truck, where, on long-distance moves, it becomes a sleeper with a sink and refrigerator.

Allied Van Lines has a page on its website dedicated to moving with children. It suggests having children pack a special box with their most treasured possessions and decorate the outside of it so they can quickly identify it in the new home.

Mayflower Transit also has a page on its website about relocating with children. It suggests having the kids help plan the route the family will take to the new home. When the movers arrive, Mayflower says to introduce the children to the workers, but for safety reasons, make sure the little ones understand the importance of staying out of the driver’s path when boxes and furniture are being moved.

The company also has a special moving kit for children that includes cards they can use to exchange address information with friends.

“It’s been my experience that the most important thing is to get the child involved from the start,” Mr. Warner says. “Show them the new home; have them help with packing items and going through things.”

He suggests that the children also take part by gathering unwanted or outgrown items and donating them to charity.

Once the move has been completed, experts encourage families to immerse themselves in their new community.

“Get acclimated to the area through things like cultural events and sports,” says Mr. Heithaus, who also suggests that families read the local magazines and newspapers to find out what’s going on in the community. He adds that Realtors are plugged into the local community, so they also have a wealth of information.

For families contemplating a move, Janice Coffey, a Realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate in Bowie, Md., says that because fair-housing laws prevent Realtors from talking about the quality of schools or day care centers, parents need to be proactive about researching various school systems on the Internet.

“It is also clearly stated in the Maryland contract of sale that buyers should research the sex-offender registry for the particular area they are considering moving to,” Ms. Coffey says.

While moving is an intense and time-consuming process, experts say to set aside a little time each day to check in with children individually. Ms. Singer says children are keenly aware of their parents’ anxiety levels and that they should try to model a calm and relaxed approach as much as possible and stick to familiar routines.

Sometimes moves are precipitated by negative factors, such as financial difficulties or divorce. Ms. Singer suggests that if an extended period of time has passed and a child has not adjusted to the move and exhibits anxiety, depression or behavior problems, the parents may want to consult a professional counselor.

“Moving is a change process that can open doors and new possibilities,” Ms. Singer says. “Capitalize on this opportunity to become closer with your children and let them know that you are always there for them, wherever ‘there’ is.”

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