Relocation for Military Families
Military families often have to move, and this transition can sometimes be difficult. Children, in particular, may experience feelings of anxiety or sadness. By expressing a positive attitude and asking your child to participate in the process, you can help her feel more at ease about the changes that may come with relocation.
Breaking the News
- When telling your child about the move, treat it as a special announcement. Make sure all of your family members are sitting down together, and tell them that you have exciting news about a “new family adventure.”
- Tell your child that this is an opportunity to make more friends. You can say, “It’s difficult to say good-bye to friends. But the good news is, soon you’re going to have even more friends, and you can still keep in touch with your old friends, no matter where you are.”
- If you notice that your child is feeling anxious or upset, give him the language to explain how he’s feeling. You might say, “I notice that you’ve been frowning a lot today. Are you feeling sad or nervous about being in a new place?” Let him know that it’s okay to have big feelings about the move, and talk about things you can do to help him feel better, such as draw a picture for his new room or play his favorite game.
- Do some research (online, at a library, and/or in person) about the place you are moving to so you’ll be prepared to answer questions your child may have. This will also help you and your child feel less nervous about what to expect.
Preparing for the Move
- To help make packing more exciting, encourage your child to help by decorating each of his boxes with markers and stickers. That way, when you arrive at your new home, you’ll know which boxes are his and can unpack those first.
- Positive reinforcement helps to build your child’s confidence and remind him that he is loved and supported. You can say, “I like how helpful you’re being by packing up your toys and books” or “You’re being a great big brother by helping Sara pack her things for the move.”
- Allow your child to bring a few of her favorite items along with her in her backpack, so she’ll have something comforting at hand during the journey.
- Go for a walk around your house and neighborhood with your child and say good-bye to important people and places. Take a picture at some of his favorite places, such as the neighborhood playground, to help him remember them after the move.
- Create good-bye cards to give to friends. Include your new address, as well as your e-mail so that it’s easy to stay connected.
- Discuss how you’re going to get to your new home (by plane, car, etc.). If you are going to pass anything exciting on the way, be sure to tell him so he has something to look forward to seeing.
- If you start to feel overwhelmed, take a break from unpacking and do something fun together as a family. Healthy outings (such as a walk or bike ride) are a great way to get a fresh perspective and regroup as a family. Or for a shorter break, try putting on music and dancing around the room.
- A few hours in the car or on a plane can feel like days to a young child. Play an exciting game to help her focus on something fun. Create “I Spy” challenges to play with your child during the journey, such as “Find a dog on the street” or “Spot a red suitcase at the airport.”
- Together with your child, unpack her room first, allowing her to choose where to put special items. Then unpack a room where the family can spend time together, such as the living room. Put up family pictures to remind your child of the many people who care about her. Involving your child during the unpacking process will help her feel that she’s an important part of the move.
- Be patient if your child is sad or behaving differently than usual, such as clinging to you or being resistant at bedtime. It may take some time, but with your love and support, you can help your child adjust to his new environment.
- Maintain family routines, such as Friday Family Game Night or Taco Tuesday, as much as possible to help your child know what to expect. Also try creating new traditions to celebrate being in a different place together. For example, at dinner, each of you might describe the high points of your day, or on Sunday afternoons you can gather for a story hour.
- Have fun exploring your new community together once you’ve arrived. Go for a walk and discover the closest parks and playgrounds, and talk about places that look interesting to your child and that she would like to go back to and explore, such as a mini-golf course or zoo.
- Set aside a time to catch up with friends and family and put it on the calendar so your child can look forward to it. Remind your child that those you love are always reachable by phone, e-mail, letters, or video chat.
- Help your child make new friends by practicing with dolls or puppets. Act out a scenario with language he might use to approach a new friend. You can say, “Hi, my name is ___. What’s yours?” Encourage your child to think about the qualities of a good friend. Ask, “What does a good friend do?”