Care and Feeding

Skipping Town

How long should I wait before telling my kindergartner that we’re moving 1,200 miles away?

Boy sitting in a moving box.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We are moving from the overpriced Northeast city where I was born and raised to a slightly less expensive coastal city 1,200 miles away. This won’t occur until the end of the school year. My question is: When to tell my kindergartner son?

I’m a former teacher who worked with a majority of international students, and I have seen kids “check out” of school and friendships once they find out they are moving, so I don’t want to tell him too early. I also don’t have any specific answers right now about where we will live exactly, his future school, etc. But we have already started telling our family and friends, and it seems unfair to keep this news from him.

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I want him to be excited about the move, but I, myself, am not totally thrilled about it. Should I wait until I have more information to provide or just tell him now?

—Ambivalent

Dear Ambivalent,

You are doing great! The greatest temptation for parental overthink in a situation like this is to tell the kid like 37 weeks in advance so they can have adequate time to “prepare,” but as you point out, that’s a total mistake. The internal clock on kids is way different than on adults, and while it’s true that space should be made for transition and getting used to a new idea, it’s also true that kids can accomplish the bulk of that inner transition work a lot faster than we can.

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I would argue, in fact, that when you tell him is nowhere nearly as important as what you do with his feelings about it. Keep in mind that you are announcing a unilaterally made decision that will affect him greatly and one in which he has had no say. This lack of power would be frustrating for him even if he were totally happy with the decision being made. It just sucks to have other people decide your life for you.

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So you’ll want to let him make as many decisions around the move as he possibly can: What to pack, what clothes to wear for the day of travel, what kind of cupcakes to make or buy for the goodbye party, etc. (Did I mention you should throw a goodbye party? It’ll help with acceptance and transition.) You’ll want to make as much time as possible to talk about moving, making new friends, and saying goodbye to old ones. You’ll want to read books and tell him stories about moves you’ve made, and you’ll want to talk about letters, emails, and sharing pictures via social media so that he knows how people go about keeping in touch.

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If you’re thinking that all of this takes time, then you’re right. It takes dedicated time and that’s really what you should be thinking about. Moving 1,200 miles is a phenomenal logistical undertaking, and you should plan it so that once you’ve made the announcement to your kid, you have dealt with enough other stuff that you can afford to spend some of this very necessary time helping him walk through his phases of transition.

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So when should you tell him? I’d say no further out than two weeks. I might even suggest one week if I thought it were possible to keep the packing hidden for that long. He doesn’t need to sit with this impending knowledge forever. From his perspective, he should be informed that this is happening and what it means. Then he should have some time to think of questions and receive some guidance on what actions need to be taken and how he can help. You should be able to sit with him for all of his feelings as they arrive, which means that you should try, if you can, to avoid being so busy with preparation that you have to shoo him away when he is feeling needy or demanding.

Moving away is a big thing, but it’s not a terrible thing. He’ll do just fine. Good luck.

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