School is back in swing, and we know it can be an exciting time filled with new experiences, teachers, and friends, but along with that excitement often comes a bit of apprehension. Those concerns can be amplified for military children who, according to the National Military Family Association, change schools on average six to nine times during their K-12 years. Pediatric neuropsychologist, Dr. Jim Olsen states, “uncertainty is the number one challenge for kids and the cause of most anxiety during [a] move.”
If your family has recently relocated to a new duty station, take a moment to recognize that mixed emotions are normal! Staying in touch with friends from former duty stations can help kids establish a sense of continuity in their nomadic military lifestyle, and the era of social media, smart phones, and Skype has made it easier than ever to do so. I’ve found that social media can also be a great way to engage with a new community. Check out school social media pages for clubs, sports, and other ways to get involved and meet potential friends.
In the quest for new friendships, don’t forget to encourage your family to occasionally put down the electronics and reach out to others in person (neighborhood Halloween party, anyone?). Sometimes the best ways to make new friends are the decidedly old-fashioned ones. If you have older children, volunteering over the summer, or during breaks at school, can be a great way to make new connections, fill school community service requirements, build a resume for future college applications, and a surefire way to start feeling at home.
What else can you do to ease your military kid’s transition back to class this fall?
Use the first few months of the new school year as an opportunity to establish good communication with school and educational staff. Let your child’s teacher know about any special circumstances that might impact their classroom performance such as a current or upcoming deployment, homecoming, reintegration challenges, or changes of duty station. This is particularly important if your family is living in a non-military town where teachers and staff may be less familiar with the lifestyle challenges of the military family.
The new school year is also a good time to assess how your child is progressing academically and determine if any assistance is needed to reach educational goals. The Department of Defense offers free memberships to Tutor.com for all K-12 military students providing one-on-one online tutoring and homework assistance in math, science, social studies, languages, and test preparation. Check it out!
If you are located on or near a military base, make sure to take advantage of the many resources available through community service programs designed to help your child succeed in school. Have a child with special educational needs? School liaison officers are available to serve as disability advocates. Need help purchasing school supplies to start the school year? Check out Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade program which distributed more than 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies last year to children aboard military installations nationwide. Reach out to your family readiness/liaison officer or ombudsman for more information about these and other installation specific programs.
Making the transition from the lazy days of summer back to regular school routines can be stressful for both children and parents alike. Calm first day of school nerves by practicing the new routine a few days in advance. Routines are comforting for children, and knowing what to expect will make the first day run much more smoothly for everyone. Most importantly, don’t forget to smile for those first day of school pictures! It’s the beginning of a brand new year of learning and fun.
What are some tips you have for military kids who are starting a new school?
Posted by Barbara Eastom-Bates, NMFA Volunteer