Smooth Moves for Children
from BR Anchor Publishing
According to the US Census Bureau, every year between 42 and 43 million people relocate, ofwhich approximately one-fourth are children between the ages of one and 19. Of course, military families make up a good percentage of this moving population. The frequency of relocation depending more on the employee’s position (officer or enlisted) and the type of job the person holds. However, suffice it to say that moves are numerous.
The challenge of relocating children is often compounded due to increasing numbers of single parents, dual career families and deployment. With increased responsibilities, parents do not always have the time to prepare children for the transition experience, nor do they always have the expertise to do so effectively . In addition, children in these situations often have more than the average emotional challenges. When children move, they leave familiar neighborhoods, schools and friends—basically what they consider “their world.” The experience can range anywhere from wonderful to devastating. Therefore, children are sometimes the “fallout” in the relocation process. But, they don’t have to be!
Children will worry less, and be more excited about, a transition if they know something about their future location. Taking the unknowns out of the equation will smooth any transition. Children only see what they are leaving—what they are giving up. Parents need to “paint a picture” so to speak, so children will better understand what they are going to experience.
First, you should contact the relocation manager at your new base who will provide you with information and overall assistance. Involve your children by encouraging them to help research everything possible about the new community on the Internet. One significant resource is Military OneSource (www.militaryonesource.com or 1.800.342.9647) that provides year-round, 24-hour information regarding childcare, personal finances, emotional support during deployments, relocation information and resources for special circumstances.
When considering schools, the goal is to maintain as much continuity as possible in the school curriculum, programs and activities. School web sites are usually a wealth of information and feature educator profiles, photos of the campus and school regulations and programs.
When a school is selected, learn the safety policies for school hours, as well as after-school activities. Also find out if there is a before- and/or after-school program for young children and be sure to explain all regulations to each child so they have a clear understanding of their boundaries.
It is extremely important for parents to pay attention to each child’s behavior, even a child who seemed to adjust quite easily in previous moves. A child is in a different “place” emotionally, educationally and socially during every move. It is therefore important that children learn early on from their parents when and why they are moving, and they need to be assured that the entire family will be working together to realize a positive and successful relocation experience.
When children raise questions and concerns about the move, parents should address each issue in a meaningful way. Children adjust, or do not adjust, in different ways and at different speeds. Some may seem to adapt well at first and then later slip back, or vice versa. Although the emotions surrounding a move will vary from child to child, all children usually experience an initial sense of loss that could be expressed in a number of ways, such as: changes in attention span, poor school performance, poor sleeping patterns and weight loss or gain.
Sometimes problems surface after a family is living in the new community. Parents need to closely watch their children’s behaviors for at least the first six months. When children are miserable and lonely, a day at school can seem like an eternity. Parents must take the time to visit the school, no matter how busy they are. During these visits they should speak to the teachers and visit classroom activities to see for themselves how their children are adjusting. Sometimes the unhappy face sitting across the breakfast table is not seen at school, but this scenario could be reversed as well.
Frequent family meetings are a wonderful way to help each other adjust, and better understand what each person is experiencing. Get-togethers provide an opportunity for the family to talk about their new community, school and work while sharing feelings and challenges. Children may be surprised to learn that new workplaces and communities are a challenge for parents as well. If the move is to an international post, parents may be at a loss about how to locate resources, such as someone who speaks their language.
Sharing feelings can be a wonderful way to bond after a move, but stipulate that everyone needs to relate at least one good episode that occurred during the week at each meeting.
Help children to be proactive. There are many aspects of a move that children can and should become involved in. Before the move, children can review their own outgrown toys and clothing, which can be a good exercise even for rather young children. Giving items away that are no longer useful to them will teach children to care for others, possibly those less fortunate than themselves. Taking care of the family pet is another good activity for children. Moving “chores” can be assigned to children with respect to their ages and abilities, which helps parents, and makes children feel useful as they have a more vested interest in the move.
Once in the new location, participation is key. Above all, parents should be role models, i.e., reach out to volunteer within the community, join local organizations and encourage their children to be proactive as well. Getting involved and meeting people will make everyone feel more at home.
However, being aware of the possibility of non-adjustment, and knowing how to obtain help in such situations, is also a significant part of achieving successful relocation. Quality literature has proven to be a very effective tool in times of stress and has a great impact on children experiencing challenging situations. Through books and stories, children are better able to cope more constructively with complex emotions and stressful experiences such as a new school and neighborhood. Children identify with story characters that demonstrate successful coping strategies and consequently, quality books are excellent resources for children.
Another coping method is writing down thoughts and experiences. This form of expression can act as a catharsis, especially for teens that are often the most reluctant movers. After a few months of journaling, the challenges that seemed so important during the move may fade away and teens will recognize how much they have adjusted to the new location.
A High Priority
The challenge of achieving successful family relocations deserves a high priority among relocation policies, and the Armed Forces are quickly recognizing this. Increasing numbers of Fleet and Family Service Centers are taking steps to address the challenge of relocating young children and teens; adding quality relocation literature; attending transition seminars and offering cross-cultural training.
One of the most difficult aspects of military parenting is having to explain to their children why it is important for them to move and leave all their friends, sports teams and schools. Any help that you can offer to ease the transition will be rewarded numerous times over. You will have happier families and much more content and productive military personnel.