By Cris Brady
We military families move a lot and for some of our kids, moving is the hardest part of military life. As parents, we plan well for the physical move of our stuff, the packing, the loading, the mess of unpacking, but the second part of this equation is rarely planned with such detail: the mental transition. It too needs time before, during, and after the move to properly unpack all its complexities.
After nearly 20 years of creating transition programs for students with autism, ADHD, and anxiety, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taken hundreds of tips and placed them into 3 main categories which I call, “The 3 P’s of Posting: Process, Props, and Passion.” In this article I’d like to share 3 awesome exercises that will help you successfully transition your kids to a new classroom, a new school, or a new country.
Process First – Allow Time
The first step is all about processing the huge amount of information involved with any move. A new school, new house, new friends, new routines is all a lot take in. Place on top of that tight timeframes and we have a recipe for serious difficulties.
Typically, parents process information and emotions differently from the way their kids do, so it’s difficult to relate to the struggles we watch them go through.
To better relate to your child’s discomfort, try this exercise. Think of a specific situation that makes you uncomfortable. It doesn’t need to be soul crushing discomfort, just something that causes enough discomfort that you feel it every time it happens. For me, it’s ice breaker games. You know, those little games that happen at the start of every training? The idea is to get to know people and feel more comfortable, but I find them anything but. I feel awkward and forced into a situation I can’t escape.
Now think of your own, we all have several things that make us uncomfortable. Think about how difficult it was for you to shift over to what you’re being asked to do. How difficult was it for you to leave the comfort of what you were doing? Think about the anticipation of the event or how far ahead it can give you anxiety. Really begin to notice how difficult that transition can be for you and what the process is for how you make it your new normal. When we break down our own process, we can being to see how to help our children through theirs.
Props – Start the vision for them
I love props! Whether it’s a little trinket that helps kids transition from an old classroom to a new one or a favorite stuffed animal photographed all over their new home, I use props before and after every move. For kids who struggle with change, props help them to visualize what the other end of that change might look like.
Unfortunately, many of our kids don’t have the ability to visualize this on their own and that inability makes change a lot scarier. If you can’t visualize your immediate future, it all just feels like a dark abyss of the unknown.
One idea is to create some type of “Destination Book.” This can be as simple as a digital file or as complex as a beautiful scrapbook. Just get several pictures of what your new city looks like, pics of places you’ll most likely visit as a family, like the zoo, and some pics of areas close to your new home, like a local park.
For some students, I’ve photoshopped their faces into pics and for others I’ve called ahead and gotten pictures of the inside of their school. We all like to plan ahead, to know what we’re getting ourselves into, so this is a simple way to help our kids plan ahead and reduce their anxiety.
Passion – our kids are very passionate and this needs to be expressed.
Military parents are great at ticking the visible boxes of what needs to get done. We’ve become incredible at planning moves, but we often forget to take a similar, detailed approach to the mental transition. We can easily get wrapped up in the busyness of the move that we push aside the attached emotions or think that by not addressing them, they’ll eventually go away.
Your child will take direct orders from your actions. The more you express your fears and difficulties, the more they’ll do the same. If we keep the emotions bottled up, they quickly manifest into thoughts, creating that little voice inside our heads that often holds us back from the things in life we really want to do.
The final and most important exercise is to teach your kids to notice the difference between thoughts and facts. You’ll need to talk to your kids about what scares you, so they’ll open up about what scares them. You can make two columns, one for thoughts and one for facts. Write down all the thoughts they’re having about the move, don’t question them just write them down. Once you’ve gone through all the thoughts, you then counter each one with a fact. So, let’s say one thought is, “I won’t like my new school”, you can talk about the fact that they’ve had thoughts like this before in previous postings, and all the things they ended up liking about that school, new Scout Troop, gymnastics club, etc. We’re taking their thoughts out of their head, placing them on paper and calling them out for the lies they often are. Thoughts are just thoughts, they do not represent what your child is capable of achieving or the facts of what they’ve achieved in the past from similar situations.
For more tips on transitioning, got to crisbrady.com and sign up for our free newsletter or join our Facebook group and get even more questions answered at, “Love your View and Teach Your Child to Love Theirs Too.”