Though anything can happen during a permanent change of station — military speak for moving — Air Force wife Jennifer McDonald can count on one thing every time. After the movers leave, but before the boxes are unpacked, her four kids will bounce balls and laughter off the barren walls in games of keep-away or "wall ball." Soon enough, balls will be banished from the house, but in the meantime, this fun tradition gives the children something to look forward to and reinforces the fact that home is wherever the family is.
Frequent relocation is a reality for military families, and while the goal amid change is resilience, some kids achieve it easier than others. Feeling displaced, adjusting to a new school, trying to find new friends and calling a strange place "home" can be overwhelming. Studies show that children who move frequently are more likely to have problems in the classroom, both academically and behaviorally, and form fewer high-quality social relationships. But proactive parenting can make all the difference.
To help children combat the stress inherent to moving frequently, deploy the following tactics:
Brief the kids early
Share information on your upcoming move as soon as you can. Children need time to process change, say their goodbyes to people and places, and seek closure.
Provide individual reassurance
When does your child feel most loved? If she responds best to words of encouragement, give her a liberal dose. If it’s when you spend time with her, make a point to do that even though your schedule is hectic. All children benefit from extra one-on-one time with you, but for introverted kids, this special attention is mission-critical to their well-being.
Strengthen family ties and long-distance friendships
When faces change every few years, the long-term stability and support of relatives and a few good friends is invaluable. Encourage regular communication through visits, Skype, phone calls and email. Older kids can develop a newsletter to keep in touch with everyone.
Strategize at school
Encourage kids to join a sports team, band, choir or theater group to speed new connections and a sense of belonging. Meet with their teachers to discuss ideas on how to help them succeed in the classroom. If frequently switching schools proves too disruptive, consider home schooling.
Cultivate the constants
Family routines and traditions offer stability in every location. Eat dinner as a family as often as possible, keep a predictable bedtime routine, attend church together and follow holiday traditions. Though your ZIP code changes, you can put down roots where it matters most — in family relationships and in your faith.