Mastering the move with children and pets - a “how to” guide

Moving home is an exciting experience and a new beginning but it also ranks very high on the stress barometer, and if children and pets factor into the mix they add complications to an already complex process that can easily elevate moving mayhem to nerve-wracking levels.

Pets and children can be worst affected by moving home because their whole world changes completely, but clever planning will go a long way towards managing their stress levels and helping them settle into their new spaces.

Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa, has moved often enough with her family to know that this time-consuming, logistically tedious process will never be stress-free but she has also learnt that it needn’t be an ordeal that pushes one to the brink of sanity.

“A little forethought and strategic planning will go a long way toward streamlining the process, significantly reducing the impact on the whole family, minimising the risk of unforeseen stumbling blocks and also easing the transition and settling in period.”
Preparing the children

Geffen cautions: “This is definitely not news that can be announced at the last minute as your children will need time to process the information and get used to the idea.

“Moving house is a big upheaval for the entire family but it can be particularly stressful for youngsters who are likely to be upset about leaving behind everything that is familiar and nervous about the prospect of changing schools and having to make new friends.”

She advises that the best way to break the news to school-aged children once the decision has been made is to call a family meeting that allows parents to address any questions or concerns well before the time in an environment where the children feel secure and supported.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers should be told about a month the before which gives them time to acclimatise to the idea but not so long that they begin to ruminate and worry.

"It’s essential to explain that all the key aspects of their lives will stay the same and that all the familiar contents of their current home, especially what’s in their bedrooms, will be moving with you.”

Once the news has been broken there are further steps parents can take to help their kids acclimatise:
Stick to normal routines

There will inevitably be many disruptions to the family’s daily routine as moving day approaches, but try to maintain as many of your old routines as possible like family meal times, regular bed times and activities like game night. The consistency and continuity are reassuring.

Scout the new area before the move

If possible take the family for a drive to visit the new destination before the move. In addition to showing them their new home you can point out the positive elements of the new area and the exciting new opportunities that await them. This will help to make them feel more excited about the move and will also dispel many of the apprehensions they may be feeling.

Involve the kids in the process

Make them responsible for their own rooms and allow them to pack their own things and decide where they want to put everything in their new rooms. It’s also the perfect time to declutter to give them a box for old unwanted toys and clothes that they can donate to less fortunate children. Encourage them to personalise their boxes with coloured pens and stickers and reassure them that they will see their boxes again soon.

Plan a Fun Activity for the Arrival

Once the move is over and everyone has arrived at the new home, take the time to do something fun together like go to a restaurant for a meal or spend an hour in a nearby park with the dogs and a picnic. It will go a long way in ensuring your new life gets off on the right foot.

Moving can be very traumatic for pets as they don’t understand why everything in their world is changing and being moved. When care isn’t taken to reduce their anxiety, pets can go missing in their search for their previous home territory, behavioural problems can arise and their health can also be affected.

Cats, especially, are creatures of habit so when packing begins in earnest and meal times and cuddle times become erratic they can get really stressed.  When we pack, move furniture and place them in a new environment, their whole world changes and their senses are bombarded with new stimuli which can be overwhelming.

First prize would be to leave the pets with a family member or friend on the day of the move, but if this is not possible, the following tips will help you and them survive the ordeal:


With all the comings and goings during moving day and strangers in the house, doors and gates are easily left open so it’s essential to tag your pets with your contact details and the new address if possible to ensure that they can be easily be reunited with you if they escape the premises.

Consult your vet

Like people, pets can also suffer from travel sickness so speak to your vet before the move about medication or anything else they can recommend to make the move smoother, especially if the new home is some distance away. 

Confine your pets on moving day

Before the moving process begins make sure the pets are in one room with familiar things like their toys and blankets and enough water. It’s not a good idea to feed them too much before the trip as they can become ill. When a family member goes across to the new house to supervise unpacking, take the pets along and settle them into a room such as a bathroom or laundry that doesn’t need to be accessed.

Settling in cats

Cats need to be kept in one room for several days at least before being allowed access to the rest of the house. Do not let your cat outside for at least two weeks after a move and when you do, make sure the initial foray into the great outdoors is supervised.  Cats are easily startled and will often dash out into another cat or dog’s territory or the road.

Settling in dogs

Dogs are less territorial than cats but still need to be introduced to their new home slowly. Show them where their new beds are and where they can find their food and water bowls. Accompany on their first exploration of the garden and take them for regular walks to familiarise them with their new neighbourhood.

Geffen concludes: “Try to get back to your usual routines as quickly as possible as this will help children and pets to settle more quickly.

“Moving to a new home should be considered a wonderful adventure for all and if the kids and pets feel secure during the process, they are less likely to act out and will soon begin to love their new environment.”

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