Moving Abroad With Your Servicemember

Recognizing and Coping with Relocation Stress in Children

Recognizing Relocation Stress in Children

While usually more resilient to change than adults, children can still experience hardships in adjusting to a new life and will react with a myriad of baffling behaviors:

  • Preschoolers are most likely to fall into regressive behavior patterns—a previously potty-trained child may begin wetting themselves. Children this age also may become whiny, clingy and begin having nightmares.

  • School-age children may begin having problems with teachers and classmates, complain incessantly, try to avoid school by feigning illness and fight more with siblings.

  • Teenagers will react to such a change the way adults do, but may also act out, complain and become moody or sullen.

Coping with Relocation Stress in Children

  • Spend time with your child researching the place you will be moving to. Find out what their new school will be like, what kind of house you will be living in, where their on-base youth center is, where the local hangouts are, local cultural norms, etc. It will be easier for children to cope if they are as familiar as possible with the new surroundings before the move. If at all possible, take your children to visit the new base before you actually move there.

  • Try to get younger children out of the house while their things are being packed up. Seeing all their things taken away can be a traumatic experience. They may begin to act out and slow down the moving process. Send them out on a play date or to a relative's or neighbor's house.

  • You may want to consider throwing a farewell party for your children and their friends. This will help them make a clean, easy break from their friends. It will also be easy to gather their friend's phone numbers and addresses in case they want to keep in touch.

  • Make your new house feel like home as soon as possible by helping your children make their rooms feel special. Help them decorate the rooms in any way they want.

  • Get your child a sponsor on the new base. The youth centers on most bases have sponsorship programs where new children can be paired up with a peer who is willing to help them get acclimated.

  • Do not try to bribe your child into not complaining. You will only send the message that their feelings are not valid and make them more angry or resentful. Let them vent to you about their frustrations and be patient, but don't allow them to misbehave.

  • Get your children involved in activities or sports that they enjoy as soon after the move as possible. Extracurricular activities introduce children to a group of peers that they can interact with on a regular basis.

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