Faces of FOCUS

My role with FOCUS offers me the opportunity to interact with military families from several different branches and installations. Even though each family is unique, come fall, I start hearing the same question from many families: how can I help my kids get ready to go back to school?

Upon hearing this question repeatedly, I started thinking about what it must feel like for kids to head back to school after such a long summer break. I thought about how a lot of adults feel nervous and tense when returning to work after only a week-long vacation. Can you imagine what some of our kids are feeling when going back to school after a three-month break? I thought especially about our teens that may be starting high school or transferring to a new school in a different town. Teens experience so many other life changes and adding one more with the start of school can make for a tough transition. As a mom of a teenager, I know that the beginning of the school year can be a bit bumpy but I also know there are several ways to make it easier.

Here are my top five tips for a smooth transition into school:

  1. Be open and understanding. A lot of teens feel confused, nervous, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, and irritable at the thought of heading back to school. Most of them are not going to come to you and say, “Hey Dad, I’m feeling really anxious about having to take upper level algebra and how I am going to balance that with football season.” However, they do give us signs and if we pay attention, we can use them to open the door to communication. When your teen starts complaining about a lot of small things or getting really upset about something that seems minor, consider that their reaction might be covering something bigger that is bothering them. Your understanding can go a long way towards diffusing these situations and creating opportunities for increased closeness. Start by sharing your understanding and acknowledgement of what they may be feeling. This will validate what they are going through. It is very likely you are also feeling stressed by the changes, so share your thoughts and feelings. This will give them permission to open up.
    • We all need parent checks sometimes, so during interactions with your teen, ask yourself the question, “Is the way I am responding to my teen right now going to make it more or less likely he/she will open up to me.” If the answer is “less”, hit the reset button and readjust your approach. Fighting during these times will most likely only serve to increase anxiety and not be helpful with this new transition.
  2. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Many schools have handbooks and online FAQ’s available to help you and your teen get oriented. Set some time aside to sit with your teen to review this information together. Even if this request is met with moans, it is a great opportunity to show your interest in a big part of their world. Doing it over their favorite pizza may help make it more bearable for them.
    • Often you can find information on the school’s website that describes sports or clubs your teen may have interest in joining, which can also help ease the transition. It is important to note deadlines and expectations for sign ups.
  3. Offer a sense of control. We all need to feel we can control some things in our world to help things stay manageable. It is no different for our teens, and we as parents can have a big impact in this. When it’s appropriate, allow your teen to make their own choices about issues like dress, class schedules, and extracurricular activities. Remind yourself that even if their choice is not your first choice, it is important they are able to develop the ability to make decisions for themselves.
  4. Establish a family ritual. Your teens have busy schedules, and Friday family game night may no longer work since this is often “sacred” friend time. However, this doesn’t mean you should just give up on spending time together as a family. When life gets chaotic, it is rituals like family meals and planned activities that can help ground things. Take some time to find an option that will work for your family. You can even extend that sense of control we talked about earlier, by asking your teen their opinion of a ritual they may like to start.
  5. Avoid avoidance. Even though it is developmentally appropriate for your teen to feel nervous and anxious and want to avoid school, this will only serve to increase their anxiety in the long run. Instead, open up a dialogue about how stress can affect how we feel physically. This way, when the morning comes where they are feeling not so hot, they are already aware that this is “normal” and it would be beneficial to them to work through it (having their favorite breakfast foods around may also help).

Remember, change is hard for all of us. Don’t forget to laugh at yourself during these moments, enjoy and embrace them. For those experiencing additional life changes such as a PCS or deployment, make sure to check out our other articles in this issue: “Deployment From a Spouse’s Perspective” and “My Move is an Open Book,” and even if you aren’t planning any major changes right now, the article, “FOCUS on…Goal Setting” may inspire you to make some.

Picture of Linda Havens from FOCUS Camp LeJeune Site DirectorMia Bartoletti, PsyD
Site Director, NSW/EOD West


My Move is an Open Book
Everyone knows moves are hard, especially for children, and I am sure you have all read at least one of the dozens of tip lists available about how to make PCS easier for kids. These lists contain wonderful suggestions, such as: allow your children to help with packing, give them choices so they maintain a sense of control, maintain a routine so your kids have an idea of what will happen next, explore your new location together, and the list goes on… and at times may seem impossibly long. However, if you took all the different tips and boiled them down to their basic principles you would discover that what helps make moves easier for kids is communication, knowing ahead of time what to expect, and maintaining some sense of control. A great way to accomplish all three of those things and spend some quality one-on-one time with your kids (also important during a move) is by helping them create their own personal move book.
read more »

Deployment from a Spouse’s Perspective
My spouse just broke the news that he will be deploying, yet again! First, my heart drops and then, tons of thoughts start racing through my mind. Thoughts like: “Will he be safe? Will he be able to call and write, and if so, how often or regularly? How will we tell the kids? How will they react? How will they handle it this time?” I remember the last deployment and try to think back to how I dealt with the separation then. I know deep down in my heart that I can get through it, since I have been through this before. But what if this time it is different? The place he is deploying to is not the same, it might be more dangerous. How will I hold it together for my children? Not only will he be leaving during the summer, but he won’t be there for the new school year either. The kids will be so sad not having their Dad here. Dad won’t be able to go on the family vacation or drop them off on their first day of school. My mind is tempted to go farther down that road but I stop myself and take three deep breaths because I have to hold everything together for my kids, the other spouses, and myself.
read more »

FOCUS on...

Goal Setting

Family Calendar activity thumbnailThe Jones family PCS’d over the summer and to help their three children settle in to their new location they signed them each up for their favorite activity. Mom also signed up for carpool, team snack mom, and a running club, and Dad is busy with work. With everyone so busy all the time, they are starting to feel like they never spend any time together as a family and they miss that. So they decide they want to set a goal of spending more time together as a family, but they are not sure how to start making that happen.
read more »

May is National Military Appreciation Month Photo of American Flag

FOCUS honors the service and sacrifice of our military families and their service members.

For Those in the Know

In January of 2011, the Defense Department announced that it had launched a free, online, tutoring service in collaboration with Tutor.com for service members and their families. The program offers 24/7 access to the staff at Tutor.com who can assist with homework, studying, test preparation, and resume writing. Tutors are available to help K-12 students, college students, and service members going back to school or through a career transition. K-12 students can get help in more than 16 academic subjects, including algebra, chemistry, calculus, and physics. Adult learners can get back-to-school and career help, including GED prep and resume writing.

Tutor.com is an online homework help and tutoring service, with thousands of tutors available around the clock. Tutor.com’s network includes more than 1,800 professional tutors and career specialists who have delivered more than 5 million one-on-one tutoring sessions since 2001. Each tutor is certified through the site, and all sessions are recorded for quality control.

For more information or to take advantage of the services, head over to Tutor.com/military.

Zero to Three’s Baby Brain Map
Have you ever wondered about all the changes that are occurring in your infant or toddler’s brain as they develop? Thanks to Zero to Three’s interactive Baby Brain map, you don’t have to wonder any longer. The Baby Brain map offers the chance to learn about infant and toddler brain development through an interactive model. Click on different sections of the model to find out what type of learning happens in that section of the brain. The site also offers tips on activities you can do to encourage that learning. To try out the brain map go to http://www.zerotothree.org/baby-brain-map.html

The Baby Brain Map was adapted in 2006 by ZERO TO THREE from Brain Wonders, a collaborative project (1998-2001) between Boston University School of Medicine, Erikson Institute and ZERO TO THREE.



In 2008, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) contracted with the UCLA Semel Institute to implement the FOCUS Project for United States Navy and Marine Corps at 9 USN and USMC installations. In 2009, FOCUS Project was expanded to include 14 sites, including the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment. In September 2009, FOCUS Project was made available to Army and Air Force families at designated installations through support from the Department of Defense Office of Family Policy.


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