Let's face it, living the military life means moving, not just once or twice, but ALOT. If a service member stays in until retirement, his/her family will likely have to move at least six times in twenty years. Moving can be stressful for the entire family, particularly for children, who tend to thrive in stable, secure environments.
Explaining this nomadic lifestyle to children is not easy. My five-year-old son just settled into his first school. He loves his friends, loves his teacher, loves his house, and he simply doesn't want to move. Kids like routine - they like things to remain the same. They see the here and now, not necessarily what is possible in the future.
What are some steps can we take to make frequent moves easier on our children?
First, turn the negatives into positives. When my son said, "I will not be able to go sledding for years," I explained to him that no, we will not see snow on the island we will be moving to (Okinawa, Japan), but we will be able to go swimming in the winter! Make a list of all the positive things about the place you will be moving to and refer to it when your children complain about what they will miss. This will eventually build up their excitement for the move.
Second, plan ways for your children to keep in touch with their current friends. The older your children are, the more connected they become with their friends. They often miss them more and have difficulty making new friends because they are holding on to the ones they left. Remind your children that when they say goodbye, it doesn't mean forever. They can still be friends from a distance. Before you leave, connect with your child's teacher and ask if it is okay to write and send photos to the class. Most teachers will appreciate the effort and turn letter writing to your child into a regular class project. If your child is older, encourage him or her to collect addresses and emails before your move. Discuss a possible future family trip back to the place you are leaving or welcome a visit by friends and their families.
Finally, let your children help! When children feel involved, they become more invested in the move. Assign tasks, such as separating toys and clothes for donation, packing their own suitcases, or even cleaning hard to reach places. Let them create their own "to do list" and have them check off each task as they complete it.
Moving is stressful, but change can bring many new adventures and learning opportunities. Be assured that with your help, your children will eventually adjust to their new environment and learn something new in the process. Good luck with your next move!