School of Education and Sociology

Head of School: Dr Catherine Carroll-Meehan

Researcher: Elizabeth Thomas Email: [email protected]

First Supervisor: Dr Gina Sherwood Email: [email protected]



Study Title:

Young children's experiences of support during

planned and unplanned house moves

Moving House Research

Supporting young children experiencing planned and unplanned house moves

A research study carried out in 2017-18

What is important about young children and house moves?


Currently in the UK, it is a well known fact that we are suffering from a broken housing market. Rent prices are high, families cannot afford to buy houses without financial support from others and landlords are able to restrict tenancies to six months at a time. This results in unwanted instability for some families, meaning that many children can be subjected to multiple house moves throughout childhood.


Families move house for a variety of reasons; some because they have no choice and it is unplanned, others because they choose and plan to do so. Previous research into this subject tells us that if children move several times in early childhood, they may suffer negative effects in their emotional, behavioural and cognitive development. Negative experiences in childhood can have an impact on experiences in adulthood (see the ACEs study). However, children have never been asked before in a research study how moving house (planned or unplanned) makes them feel and how they actually experience the transition. If we knew what the issues were which caused these negative effects, then we might be able to do something to avoid them.


This study is designed to do exactly that; to spend time with families of young children at the time of a house move and explore what the child experiences through the use of observations, photographs and drawings. It is also designed to seek out the support strategies each family employ to enable their child to have a smooth transition, and which strategies are not so effective.

What methods were used in the pilot study?


This research study employs qualitative methods, which means focusing on descriptions and explorations rather than trying to prove or disprove a theory.


In the initial pilot study, three families who were due to be moving house agreed to participate, and each family became a 'case study', with the focus being on their child aged between 2-4 years.


There were mixed methods used to gather data:

  • Children were able to play games with the researcher, particularly house move role play with two doll's houses, furniture, people and a truck. This was to gain an insight into the children's understandings of what moving house entails, and also to see if this game helped them to understand in greater depth and therefore allay fear of the unknown.

  • Children had access to a 10" tablet to take photos in their old and new homes; they were then able to look at these photographs and talk about why they took them and which were most important to them.

  • The researcher read stories with the children about moving house to see if this would help their understanding to grow.

  • Conversations with children, parents and childcare practitioners helped the researcher to gain an extensive picture of the child's world and how they were experiencing the house move.

What were the findings of the pilot study?



  • The context of house moves had an impact on children’s experiences and each child’s experience was unique

  • Upwardly mobile families buying their home had more positive parental attitudes and therefore more positive experiences

  • Additional stressors had a negative impact on all other aspects of the child’s experience.


Proximal processes

  • House moves led to a temporarily unstable environment in all cases, with boxes and furniture increasing safety hazards

  • Children spent more time with family members or friends they would not usually spend time with, causing confusion over who would be living in their new house - during the role play game they all added grandparents or friends to the new house

  • The support provided by family members and churches was valuable to the child’s experience although became overwhelming at times

  • The stress of moving caused parents to be harsh and inconsistent at times, but these moments were outweighed by positive parenting experiences

  • All children were exposed to vicarious experiences to support their transition – doll’s house role play, stories and drawings.


Person characteristics

  • The shy and sensitive children appeared to be more emotional about the house move and struggled to settle in initially, whereas the extroverted child seemed to adapt quickly, which may have been for a number of reasons including her age and personality

  • A lack of understanding heightened emotions at times - one tried to load the whole doll’s house on to the back of the lorry during the role play game and one cried at the suggestion of putting the doll’s house furniture into boxes



  • All children experienced changes in their emotions and attitudes over time

  • The emotions children displayed were consistent with the Kubler-Ross change curve, which goes through a cycle of emotions

  • They all had low moments directly after the move but recovered over the following month

  • Moments of stability over time helped support children’s transitions, e.g. building the same den in the old and new houses.

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What next...?

It would be interesting to look in more detail at the similarities and differences between planned and unplanned house moves on a local level and how young children experience support. This includes children moving into temporary accommodation such as council provided houses of multiple occupation and charity provided women's refuges. While there are existing studies looking at global migration and refugees, this study focuses on local moves within the context of one of the top ten most expensive places to live in the UK.

in association with