Changes are hard for toddlers. There is so little they have control of, they grasp on to what's constant.
With that said, moving is a challenge when you have a small child. At least it was for us. And my way of making it a little easier was letting Thatbaby feel like he had some control over the situation. Obviously we weren't letting a 2 year old make major life decisions for our family, but there is a way to make them feel like their opinions matter.
1) House Hunting - Thatbaby loved house hunting. He loved running around the empty houses and exploring. We gave each house a special descriptive nickname, and at the end of the day, we'd talk about them and ask him which he liked best. Again, we weren't going to let him pick a house to move into, but it made him feel like he had input in what was going to happen to us.
2) Packing - Packing was probably the worst part of moving, because it's hard to entertain when you're trying to get things put away. We tried to work at nights, but given the exceptionally short time frame we were working with, we had to do more than just an occasional box a night. Which meant we spent a full weekend trying to get as much packed as we could. Thatbaby saw us packing and wanted to pack his things too. Which is when I had the brilliant idea of letting him. I pulled out a box, and told him to go ahead and put his toys in it.
The problem here is that I didn't communicate with Thatboy the full plan, which was to let Thatbaby pack a box, but leave it open. Especially since we had 3 weeks left at our old place. Instead Thatboy sealed up every box Thatbaby packed. Which meant all his favorite toys? Completely inaccessible. Not a smart idea Thatboy. What became an even bigger problem is Thatboy didn't follow the cardinal rules of packing - LABEL YOUR BOXES! We've now been in our new home for a month and we still haven't figured out where all of Thatbaby's things are.
3) Cleaning - The other aspect of moving which takes away parents from playtime is cleaning. Unless of course, you pull a Mary Poppins and make a game out of tidying up. We handed Thatbaby a sponge and let him "clean" whatever he could.
4) The new school - Packing was awful, but probably the hardest non-physical part of moving is leaving behind the familiar people and places you love. For Thatbaby, this was school. We really lucked out on his preschool and he'd been with his friends since he was 5 months old. It was painful to leave. And because we were so spoiled, the choices in our new area paled with comparison. We weren't bowled over by either of them. And so we let Thatbaby make the choice, kind of. We brought him to the two schools we were considering, and let him explore each. Then asked which he liked better. Like all major decisions, Thatboy and I were ultimately the ones making the decision, but since it was something that would have such a big effect on Thatbaby, it was really important to us that he liked where he'd be going. Even still, this was a very rough transition. I think we got lucky that it only took us a week of him being very scared and reluctant to go to his new school, I'm sure it could have been worse.
5) Pre-move visits - This is something I learned from having a dog. We made a couple trips to the new house before we officially moved in. They were just fun trips, an overnight here, dinner there, a day to play in the backyard. This helped him get to know the house, without completely uprooting him overnight. Before we even lived there he thought of it as a great place to play and was excited about getting to stay longer. This is not to say he wasn't sad to leave our old place. There were definitely days when he said he wanted to go back to where we were. But a month in, and he has found his space in his new home.
6) The New Room - In an ideal world, the kid's room would be all set up and ready to go the first night there. It helps to have that sense of continuity and familiarity. Of course, we always end up doing everything the hard way, so right now, Thatbaby's room is the one that is least unpacked and ready to go. His crib is set up, but that's about it. Everything is still in (open) boxes around the room. The one thing we have done, is let him have input on his new room and what he wants. He got to pick pictures to hang on his walls, the curtains on his new windows (one set of yellow, one set of green) and when he asked if he could have a rug, since Thatboy and I were picking out one for our room, of course we said yes and let him pick it out. It's his space, so letting him have some input on it only makes sense.
I do think this major transition has gone relatively smoothy to judge by outward reactions of Thatbaby. It is much harder and more stressful to move with a child than when Thatboy and I had previously moved. It's harder to find the time to pack, clean, and get ready, and it's still hard finding the time to unpack and get things into their places. But having low expectations have really helped. After all, our couch is taking 14-16 weeks to arrive, so I figure if we can have everything pulled together by then, we'll be in good shape!