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’tis the ‘Season of Change’ for military kids

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By LISA SMITH MOLINARI, meatandpotatoes.com

“When we were leaving Guam, Devon isolated himself from his friends as they were isolating him. We dealt with it by spending more time with one friend and her family that didn’t isolate him and we all became fast friends. Unfortunately she is PCSing in a few months and her mother is telling us that she is now being isolated by her friends,” says Navy spouse Jay of his son, age 10.

“My son decided not to play baseball this spring, his sophomore year,” says Army wife Kimberly. “We’re moving to Rhode Island, and here in Alaska the season is just starting, snow is still covering the fields. He didn’t want to train on a team when he wouldn’t get to be there for part of the season. He felt he’d be letting the team down.”

Marine child Gabby, age 9, describes her most stressful move as leaving Okinawa, Japan in fourth grade, “because we had an entire life there with friends away from all family,” and, “it was one of the longest duty stations I’ve been alive for.”

“While I was excited to start middle school in Virginia, I quickly figured out that these kids had gone to school with each other since kindergarten,” recalls Navy dependent Adrienne D., now age 20. “This was a new concept that these kids have known each other their whole lives. I found it very difficult to find friends within the first year of moving.”

“It was stressful just knowing everything was happening at once. Moving away from my comfortable place and having to start fresh. Knowing that the friends I do make will only be for a short time,” says Navy child Aliyah, age 8.

Adrienne G., Navy spouse, explains how her two boys react differently to change: “I have an extrovert who wants to spend more time with friends and an introvert who wants to pull away. To meet the needs of both kids, we’re staying in one state. The Navy can survive without us for a while.”

According to the Department of Defense, there are 1.7 million American force-dependent children across the globe, about 80 percent of which attend public schools. Since over half of all military moves take place at the end of the school year, there are roughly a million military kids currently facing an impending move. That makes April, the Month of the Military Child, pretty stressful.

According to the authors of a new book available June 1, The Seasons of My Military Child: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers, parents and educators should use a team-approach to help military kids through transitions. Authors Amanda Trimillos, Air Force spouse, teacher, and mother of four, and Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman, Air Force spouse, military advocate, and mother of two, advise parents to build an “army of awareness.” Together, parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors can guide the child through the “seasons of transition.”

The team should watch for signs of struggle, which include isolation, low grades, eating alone at lunch, and lack of involvement. Trimillos and Allsbrook-Huisman recommend that parents listen. “Let them lead the conversation, especially tweens and teens. Ask open-ended questions. Kids are watching the way we handle moves, so remember not to project your feelings onto them,” says Allsbrook-Huisman.

Through networking, communication, and more specific tools described in the book — such as creating an “Education Binder” that follows your child to each school — the authors say military children can thrive.

Even social media can be an effective tool in easing transition stress, according to Trimillos, whose daughter still plays Barbies with her best friend from three stations ago via FaceTime. “She sets her screen inside her Barbie house while her friend does the same in Oklahoma.”

Our own daughters developed a way to turn fear into positive excitement after our move to Germany in 2008. Anna would point out forests, playgrounds, sidewalks … anything, and proclaim conspiratorially to her little sister, Lilly, “Adventure awaits!”

“Military kids have tried and failed, tried and succeeded … and live to tell about it,” Allsbrook-Huisman says, acknowledging that military children are more experienced than civilian peers. “It’s the gift of perspective, something only military kids have.”