I recently read a few posts with titles like “how to survive a military move with kids.” While this is fantastic advice, and certainly needed, I couldn’t help but notice the shortage of posts about how to help kids survive military moves.
As a military wife, this is one of the topics that is closest to my heart. These kiddos go through instability after instability during childhood – the most volatile time of their life - and it seems as though all of the programs out there are aimed at their parents. While there is validity to the argument that emotionally healthy parents tend to lead to emotionally healthy kids, it doesn’t mean that those years of instability are easy.
So I decided that instead of complaining about the lack of information on this side of it, I was going go throw in my two-cents. Based on our experiences (and the advice of a few well-moved friends), I give you:
10 Ways to Help Kids Survive a Military Move
1. Talk to them. It seems silly to even mention it, but I have heard horror story after horror story about parents who avoided telling toddlers about moves because they assumed they wouldn’t understand or waited until the last minute to tell older children. Kids can sense change. While they may not understand everything that a move means, hearing about it from you before they figure it out on their own AND with the reassurance that everything is going to be okay is important. Talk to them. Answer questions. Research the new home together. Keep a countdown. Whatever makes them feel like they are part of the move and not that the move is happening to them.
2. Find out about your new home together. Find out what’s fun and interesting. Learn about their new school (maybe even buy something in new school colors). Go to the library and find some fun books about their new home. Order free travel brochures online. Talk about the places they want to visit and plan trips to do so. Getting your child excited about their new home is a great way to help them learn that change isn’t necessarily bad.
3. Let them voice concerns. Military world is full of these messages of “tough it out” or “get over it.” That just doesn’t work for kids. Make sure your children know they can come to you and voice concerns. And give answers that are reassuring and thoughtful and not belittling and dismissive of their concerns. Whatever you do, don't tell them to "toughen up." While you can’t change the fact that a move and changes are eminent, just knowing that you are still on their side will be enough for a lot of kids.
4. Make sure they get to say goodbye. In the weeks of insanity before moves with our own goodbyes and the overall chaos, sometimes their goodbyes can be forgotten. Don’t let this happen. One idea: plan a goodbye playdate at the park while the movers are there to get them out of the house and give friends a chance to come say goodbye. This closure is important. In fact, so is letting them keep in touch with these friends later if they would like. (PS Moms, keeping friends as a pen pal is a great chance for your kids to practice writing/drawing skills!)
5. Let them be involved however possible. Empowerment is huge. Can they help you pick your new house? Can they help you choose their school? Can they find a new ballet/soccer team they would like to join? Can they help you pack? Can they have a special moving-day job? How should their room look? Kids need to feel a sense of control and simply packing and moving tends to give a Dorothy-in-the-tornado feeling, even to kids.
6. Get them out of the house. It’s easy to spend the first weeks in your new home unpacking and settling or even running errands, but it’s important to understand that your kids have just lost all of their friends and are already stir crazy. Give them the chance to meet people, do things, and get out of the house, whether or not you are ready. Get them in school and teams, clubs, or playgroups right away instead of waiting so they have the chance to make friends. Most people that I know don’t want to play chauffeur from day 1 in their new home. They want to unpack because they want to feel more “settled” however, understand that your children are feeling the same way, but “settled” for them means meeting other kids.
7. Try to keep things as familiar as possible. A big mistake that a lot of parents make is using a move to purge toys or completely overhaul their home. While this is reasonable, it can also be problematic to spring this on a child. Again, think Dorothy-in-a-tornado then waking up in Oz. If your child wants a new bedroom suite and practicality says now is the time to do it, at least keep the child involved in the decision. And no, a move isn’t the right time to purge toys. Weeks before? Sure. But having your child go to sleep in one state, then waking up in another with half of their toys missing isn’t a good way reassure a child that change isn’t bad. If you plan to purge, do it weeks in advance, and maybe even with the help of the child (if your child can handle it). Basically, just try to keep life and routines as close to normal as possible.
8. Reward – but appropriately. I’ve heard a lot of argument over this one. Some friends say that teaching a child that getting a reward for doing something that is just a part of life is unreasonable. Others say that it is comforting to a child in the middle of turmoil. My vote is reward, but make it appropriate. Moving is a very big-kid responsibility, and worthy of a new big-kid reward. For instance, maybe a new big-kid bike since your child has shown they are ready for more responsibility? New big-kid Legos instead of Duplos? Or even just a new big kid responsibility like being allowed to be outside unsupervised if age appropriate? Reward isn’t always the same thing as “gift.” Sometimes it’s simply a way to show children that their extra efforts are noted and appreciated.
9. Give a little bit of grace. Does that mean that rules go out the window? Of course not – and good luck trying to get them back if you do. But rather, understand that kids are way out of their comfort zone and yes, there will probably be extra problems as new rules and boundaries are drawn. And potty training – yeah, I would just assume there will be setbacks and be ready for them. Just understand as you watch your children struggle that moves aren’t easy. (PS You may want to ask for a little yourself. I’m guessing you aren’t at your most kind and patient either. Remember this fact as you are dealing with your children.)
10. Stay calm. Easier said than done, right? Here’s the thing, your kids are deciding how they should feel based on how you feel. The more stressed you are, the more stressed they will be. Keep your cool when you can and forgive yourself when you can’t. Laugh every chance you get. Most importantly, enjoy the time with your family. It isn’t something we always get.
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