By SARAH PEACHEY
You’ve probably heard it time and time again: Military children are resilient. They learn to adjust to having Mom or Dad (sometimes both) deployed or on temporary duty, learn how to make friends at new duty stations and even how to transition to a new school. With school recently beginning in some states or right around the corner in others, here are some ways to make the first day a little less daunting.
Before the school year begins
- Get information on the school: Some schools offer orientations and others have welcome packets on hand to provide students with tours, meeting teachers and learning the school schedule to help reduce first-day jitters. For military families, the best way to learn about the school is to seek out your installation’s School Liaison Officer. Each branch of service at each installation around the country has SLOs that are eager to provide information and assistance to families, whether your child(ren) will attend public school or if you choose to homeschool. SLOs are also great at dealing with issues resulting from frequent moves and deployments. Click your branch for the SLO directory for your respective branch of service: Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
- Meet up with some friends: If you arrived in the area before the school year begins, you have probably had a chance to meet some people. Maybe your child is involved in a summer camp or sports teams and made some friends. Consider pulling information from those children to help your own child and the parents to help yourself. The best source of information is from those who have the experience.
- Talk with your child about other “firsts”: Being a military family, you’ve likely moved before. Use those experiences to ease your child’s nerves about a new school. Military kids know about change better than most civilian kids, so they can use their prior experience to guide them.
- Re-establish mealtime and bedtime routines: Rapid change can make the adjustment harder, so having the baseline for when meals are served and when it’s time for bed can offer a soothing period during the chaos of a new school.
The first week
- Steel yourself for some upsets: The first few days in a new school can be rough on children. Your child may not know many (or any) people or not have classes with friends he made over the summer. It can make for a lonely day, especially when seeing so many other students with their friends. Some experts believe the first six weeks are the hardest for students in a new school, but since so many military children understand the need to make friends quickly, they may adjust in a shorter length of time.
- Make yourself available: This isn’t always easy for military families, but it helps for a smoother transition if one parent or another family member is able to set aside time to assist the child as needed. Whether it’s helping with homework or listening to the child talk about her day, having someone involved can easily sooth discomfort and worry.
- Encourage involvement to help boost friendships: Find out what your child enjoys and get them involved. If your child played soccer at his last school, encourage him to try out for the team at the new school. Maybe your child isn’t a sports fan, but would rather sing in a chorus or join a theater group. If the school doesn’t offer the activity, you could search out the same opportunities on your installation or in the community. Child, Youth and School Services (or your branch equivalent) can help point you in the right direction for information. Just be careful not to overload on too many activities.
- Seek help if your child needs it: Even though military children often learn how to adapt to new situations, it isn’t always easy. There may come a time that your child needs help. The Department of Defense created the Military and Family Life Counseling program to help service members and their families work through a variety of issues. The MFLCs are sometimes connected to specific military units, but are also housed in Child and Youth Services and school programs in some areas. MFLCs are licensed clinical providers that offer short-term, non-medical counseling support.
It never hurts to help your kids get off to a good start. Following these tips can help ease the transition to a new school and jumpstart your child’s involvement.
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Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from Pennsylvania, back in the Mid-Atlantic after voyages to the Deep South and Southwest. She lives with her husband, toddler and newborn. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning three state awards for her work, and she now freelances for military spouse support sites and consults for MilitaryOneClick. She has a passion for politics and fiery debate. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and crossword addict.