The scene: We’d landed in North Dakota after nearly 24 hours of flying from the island of Guam, including layovers in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Denver, and Minneapolis. By the time we’d completed the last leg of the trip, two of our four children had been airsick, most of us hadn’t slept or eaten a real meal, and all of us were a bit grungy and crabby. We were most decidedly not at our best.

While not every move we’ve made as a military family has been that dramatic, each one of the over dozen moves we’ve made has presented its own challenges. I will admit that, in the middle of packing boxes and coordinating all the little details, family unity can get pushed to the bottom of the list. However, as days wear on and we adjust to a new location, it quickly becomes apparent that helping our children process the huge change is a priority, not to be ignored!

When it comes to kids, it’s important not to underestimate the amount of help they’ll need to get through the big upheaval of a move—whether it’s simply to a new neighborhood or across the globe. Here are a few things our family has learned:

  • Expect that you’ll be explaining. A lot! Younger children especially may not understand every nuance of what moving truly means. When my oldest was a two-year-old watching the movers load our belongings onto the moving van, his biggest concerns were if his “big boy bed” would be at the new house and if his baby brother would also be loaded onto the truck. Try to be patient with the seemingly constant barrage of questions. Little ones really just don’t understand!
  • Keep certain routines the same. Well, as much as possible. When you’re living in a hotel or out of a suitcase, having certain touchstones throughout the day stay the same—bedtime, nighttime routine, meal time—can be a source of comfort to a child.
  • Plan in breaks. While your to-do list may be screaming at you, make sure to plan in some down time for all your sakes. Take a walk around the block; go to the park for a half hour. Winding down and reconnecting away from the chaos of moving is important.
  • Accept help. Take up offers from family and friends who want to help out with a meal or take your children for the day. During what I call the Great Crying Road Trip that was part of our move from Texas to Florida, my dear mother-in-law flew in to make the several days’ drive with our family of six divided between two vehicles (one pulling a trailer), and our four children all under the age of seven, including one very wee and colicky baby. I don’t know how we would have done it without her and could never repay her!
  • Let your kids help. Part of processing the necessary goodbyes is being involved. Help children feel a part of things by letting them pack a bag for the trip, organize their room, or even choose which toys will go in boxes or go along with them on the trip.
  • Allow them to process the sadness. Make time for goodbyes to people and places. Cry together and let them know it’s ok to be sad. If where you’re moving is far from what they’ve known, set up Facetime or Skype dates or help them figure out other ways to stay in touch with their loved ones.

While I’d love to tell you differently, there is no secret formula for getting through a move, only time and patience. Remember that everyone is worn out—including you! Extending grace and patience to all the members of your family can help you through these challenging days.