While transitions provide families a fresh opportunity for growth, it can also be a time that brings a great deal of stress. The traditional life transitions can be tougher for military families when it seems like the lives of everyone around them are changing too. Relocations for “PCS Season,” long vacations, and new schools are just a few transitions that military families may face. To help families go from surviving to thriving, the following tips can lend a helping hand:
- Plan ahead. Few things spell trouble like a failure to plan. Even a short trip to your local swimming hole can turn sour if someone forgot swim shorts. If a move is in your future, creating a plan can reduce the anxiety of the unknown. From what hotel to stay in, to what neighborhood has the best schools in your price range, these details can be planned ahead to reduce stress. Transitions like attending a new school can be set up for success by taking a short tour to know where classes are or ensuring Individualized Education Plans are current. Kids can get involved in the planning by going online and looking at pictures of the new place, or talking to other kids about moving at Military Youth on the Move (for more information see their “For Those in the Know” section)
- Keep your family’s diet and sleep routine consistent and healthy. Avoid letting the freedoms of summer influence food choices and sleep habits. Kids, in particular, can be sensitive to diet and sleep changes. Sugar spikes, tired tantrums, and bellyaches can ruin even the best laid plans. Everyone can benefit from planning meals ahead of time, limiting unhealthy foods, and keeping a routine. For example, on long drives, pit stops in the afternoon can keep kids from late napping and encourage more healthy sleep that night.
- Talk about expectations, and expect the best. Kids thrive when they know what is expected of them. Hold a family meeting to discuss and even negotiate expectations (for more on family meetings click here). Change can be hard for kids, both physically and mentally. Knowing what comes next can ease their fear and anxiety of the unknown. Think for a minute that the changes your child is experiencing are similar to getting a new job: If you have an idea of what you’ll be doing at the new job, you’re more likely to be better at it. Even more, if you have a boss who’s excited, supportive and expects you to excel in your new obligations, you’ll be employee of the month in no time. And if your boss considers your input, you will be the happiest and most productive person in the whole company! Kids need the same thing; a list of expectations, a way to give feedback, and lots of pats on the back can make this a positive transition for the entire family.
- Give everyone permission to learn. Transitions are an opportunity to grow. Kids can learn to master new tasks during transition, but this takes some planning. Parents can provide safe learning opportunities by getting creative. For example, take your soon-to-be-kindergartner to new playgrounds to practice making new friends. If you have a child transitioning to middle school, have fun trying to set a family record for unlocking combination locks. By the time they are at their new school with 4 minutes to change classes, they’ll be in and out in a breeze. Have a new driver in the family? Take your teen driving in an empty parking lot with rubber cones for guides. Their confidence will grow faster without the guilty feelings of paying for new paint.
- Reassure. Reassure. Reassure. Did I mention it’s helpful to reassure your child? Kids need to know they did a good job. They need to know that whatever transitions lie ahead, the love and support of their family is unchanging. Reassurance promotes healthy self-talk, confidence, and even positive social skills. Even the teenager who seems to fight every positive affirmation needs a reassurance. They’ll thank you later and maybe even reassure you that you did a great job helping them grow!