I thought long and hard about how to prepare our daughter (22 months young) mentally and emotionally for the big move. She obviously is too young to grasp the complexity of how far we are moving, leaving grandparents behind, not being able to access all of our houshold stuff for some time and simply not having a real new “home” yet to move into.
It is important to me, to include my child in the changes that are happening right now as best as possible even if she can’t comprehend the whole picture. We told her right from the beginning of my pregnancy that there is a baby in mommy’s tummy and we followed the same pattern with the upcoming move. As soon as it was final & decided that we’re actually moving out of state, we told her about the new adventure for our family – just with different words & ways as I would have told a grown up person.
We pointed out airplanes in the sky to her whenever we saw one (and with Berlin having two operating airports we get to see them regularly). We told her that soon we will fly in an airplane, too! She loves spotting airplanes in the sky now and imitates them flying with her arms stretched out wide 🙂 In addition to that we told her that we will fly to Michigan, the place we will be living in for the next years. Of course she has no sense of geography or distance, but it’s a new word and at this stage she is interested in everything new. It didn’t take her long to pick up the word “Michigan” and she connects it to the airplane flight – whenever we tell people we will go on a big trip to start life in a new place she repeats “Michigan”.
Next on, we wanted to make the actual move as easy to understand and comprehend as possible for her, so we started to talk about packing things early on. We bought her a little bright green backpack for children. This way she can be just like us with our backpacks to carry on board the airplane. We talked about how she can pack her drinking bottle, snacks and small toy figures in there to take with her and she seems to really like the idea. Ever since she takes out her backpack at least once a day and wants to carry it, even inside our apartment. And we’ll let her do just that, because it’s a fun thing for her and that will help on the actual day of the long distance flight to the US.
We introduced suitcases the same way. Each of us will get to pack one big suitcase, and her face lit up when we took down her very own suitcase from the top shelf of the closet. To her it is gigantic and we went through her room discussing what she could possibly take with her. The suitcase has it’s place in the corner of our hallway, for a few weeks now – that way she sees it everyday walking past it and we have lots of chances to talk about the big journey and moving. Each time we repeatedly tell her about it, she seems to get her mind wrapped around the whole topic better and better.
Using the suitcases, we could also make it understandable to her, that things like her bed and big drawers will not fit in the suitcase and have to be packed in boxes by the moving company. We explained to her that these boxes will take the journey by ship, and now she is waving to each ship she sees (doesn’t matter that those are mostly touristy ships on the Spree River – to her a ship is a ship) and calls out: “bye bye” probably thinking there are boxes on those ships traveling abroad just like ours in a few days.
To her, all those little single things are connected in her mind now, all leading up to an exciting adventure for our family. I also think the fact that WE – the parents ourselves – are spreading positive excitement about this and seeing it as an adventure, rather than a big risky step to worry about helps with the attitude our daughter is taking on. The most important thing that she keeps repeating every.single.time though, are the words: “Daddy, too”, “Mommy, too” and of course we are repeating it with her reassuringly all the time, that every step we take on this adventure, we go together: Daddy, Mommy (with baby in tummy) & Nanami, our daughter.
As for preparing her before the big move that is all we wanted to accomplish, and topics like: “living in the hotel while finding a new home” and “grandparents being even farther away then right now” – we’ll tackle them ‘on the move’ & after the flight