By Lizann Lightfoot
A big part of military life is moving. . . often. For military kids, that means saying goodbye to their home, their school, their friends, and their sports team or scouting troop. Even if a military kid moved several times when they were younger, there will come a time when they spend a few years at a station and feel like it is their home. When you tell them it’s time to go, there will be tears and perhaps some shouting and slamming doors.
Parents are responsible for helping their kids through a move. This is especially challenging if you, the parents, aren’t very excited about moving either. Since military kids don’t get a choice in where they live, it isn’t fair to expect them to be happy about it. The best thing we can do is show our children that the family is a team, and we are all going to do this together, even if it is hard.
1. Listen to them.
Whether or not you think they are over-reacting, listen to them and let them talk about the moving situation. Are they sad about what they are leaving behind? Worried that they won’t fit in at the next base? Angry because the next assignment means a deployment? Let your kids know that it is normal to feel that way and that you are here to help the through the move, no matter how they feel.
2. Let them know you feel the same way too.
It’s healthy to let kids know that parents have emotions, too. Yes, you want to model and good example for the kids, put on a brave smile, and try to act like this is a fun adventure. But don’t keep secrets from the kids. Tell them that you will miss your friends and that you are nervous about the next base. Then show them some of the positive ways you are coping–what you are looking forward to and how you want life to improve at the next base.
3. Read books about moving.
If your kids are younger, they may not remember the last time they moved. There are numerous military books and civilian books about moving to a new house and making new friends. Check some out from the library or order them online.
4. Have a portable sport or hobby.
If your child is part of a class or a team that they love, let them know they can continue to do that at the next base. Research MWR youth sports on base or local community classes and activities off base. Some off-base programs offer military discounts, so don’t let a high price tag scare you away when you move to a new part of the country.
5. Get a stationary kit.
Sure, letters are old-fashioned, but they are still wonderful. Kids will love the confidence of knowing that they have a way to keep in touch with their friends, even if they move to a new time zone. You can also show them how to set up Skype or Facetime dates with their friends.
6. Make the next base more real and tangible.
One of the best ways to calm a kids’ moving fears is to show them details about the next base. Do you know what your house will look like? Or their new school? How is the weather there? What foods or local sports are popular? Are there amusement parks nearby? The more they know about their new home, the more they will start looking forward to moving.
7. Let them plan their bedroom.
For older kids, this is a great source of comfort. If they are allowed to paint and decorate their bedroom, that will give them a project they can control during the move. Try to be patient with their choices and make it a fun project. They didn’t get a vote about the move, but they can have full authority over their new room.
8. Make a scrapbook or memory book.
No matter how old or young your kids are, they have probably made some friends and good memories at your current duty station. Show them those memories are important treasures by collecting the photos. You can print out photos and put them into an album or use a website like Shutterfly to design a custom photo book
9. Have a goodbye party for friends.
Let your kids plan a little goodbye party close to the moving date. This doesn’t have to be a fancy affair with Pinterest-inspired crafts and activities. Instead, let them do something casual and fun–meet at a park, the pool, or the bowling alley. It’s a chance for them to see everyone one last time and get those final goodbye hugs. Yes, there will be tears but there will also be closure.
10. Let them help pack.
Although many aspects of moving are out of their control, kids can be involved by packing some of their own things. Even younger kids can choose which toys or stuffed animals to keep with them in the car or to send in an express shipment overseas. Letting kids make choices about the move will make it easier to say goodbye.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.