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The Challenge of Moving for Military Children

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Fall 2014   


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The Challenge of Moving for Military Children

Four middle school girls participating in an unnamed extracurricular activity at school. Admittance to extracurricular activities is one of the challenges that military children face when moving to a new school. In 2012, there were over 1.2 million children in U.S. military families, and more than three-fourths lived in households headed by enlisted military service members.1 Military families with children frequently relocate, often moving across state lines or to foreign countries, and move every two to three years, on average.2 Having to move frequently is recognized as a significant military lifestyle stressor that can disrupt a child’s friendships, educational experiences, community connections, and extracurricular activities.3 On average, military children change schools six to nine times during their elementary and secondary years, requiring a significant number of adjustments by the time they graduate from high school.4

Although research has explored how military children react and adjust to frequent changes in residence, results are mixed, and many studies are specific to small, unrepresentative samples of the population. Other studies may not apply to the experiences of today’s military families, which include war and multiple parental deployments.5 Timely data come from a qualitative study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in which a group of military adolescents who had moved an average of 5.72 times reported in focus groups, along with parents and school personnel, on what stressors they experienced with relocating. The students reported the biggest challenges they faced when transitioning to a different place to live were experiencing an increase in family tension, particularly when a move was unanticipated; having difficulty separating from friends and facing the challenge of assimilating into established social networks to form new friendships; learning and adapting to a new school and community; dealing with differences between the old and new schools (such as size, requirements, quality of education, treatment of special needs, available resources, and administrative procedures); leaving and developing new student-teacher relationships; and getting accepted into extracurricular activities.6

Focus group members also identified what students found helpful in coping with the stress of relocating. Coping mechanisms mentioned include blending in, improving communication skills, assuming adult roles and responsibilities, joining available activities, connecting with other military children, and confiding in peers. Several focus group participants expressed a belief that military children are uniquely equipped to handle relocation stressors adeptly, positively, and maturely and to take advantage of chances to live abroad, experience diversity, and acculturate.7 These data resonate with other research suggesting that these experiences may help military children become more resilient. Weber, for example, finds that as the frequency of moves increased for a group of military adolescents, their rates of behavioral and school problems declined, suggesting that these students were becoming more resilient in making moves.8

Numerous groups from the military, civilian, and nonprofit sectors offer assistance to military families and their children. One example is the Student 2 Student peer support program sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition, in which high school students from military families who are entering a new school receive support and advice from student peers on how to assimilate into the new environment.9 Another example is for U.S. Military Families, an online tutoring service that offers free, 24-hour homework help to all K-12 military children. This service is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense Morale, Welfare and Recreation Library Program; the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program; and the Navy General Library Program. Finally, one of the most significant initiatives on behalf of military schoolchildren is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Developed by the Council of State Governments, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other stakeholders and signed by most states, the compact is a commitment to uniform policies that will ease military child transfers between public school districts on matters such as educational records, immunizations, entrance into kindergarten and first grade, deployment-related absences, special education, graduation, extracurricular activities, and guardianship.10

  1. U.S. Department of Defense. “2011 (Updated November 2012) and 2012 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community” reports ( Accessed 18 September 2014.
  2. Carlos V. Guzman. 2014. “School-Age Children of Military Families: Theoretical Applications, Skills Training, Considerations, and Interventions,” Children & Schools 36:1, 9–14; Molly Clever and David R. Segal. 2013. “The Demographics of Military Children and Families,” The Future of Children 23:2, 13–39.
  3. Lisa Hains Barker and Kathy D. Berry. 2009. “Developmental Issues Impacting Military Families With Young Children During Single and Multiple Deployments,” Military Medicine 174, 1033–40.
  4. Center for American Progress. 2014. “Better Serving the Children of Our Servicemen and Women.” Accessed 5 August 2014.
  5. M. Ann Easterbrooks, Kenneth Ginsburg and Richard M. Lerner. 2013. “Resilience among Military Youth,” The Future of Children 23:2, 99–120.
  6. Catherine P. Bradshaw, May Sudhinaraset, Kristin Mmari, and Robert W. Blum. 2010. “School Transitions Among Military Adolescents: A Qualitative Study of Stress and Coping,” School Psychology Review 39:1, 84–105.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Eve Graham Weber. 2005. “Geographic Relocation Frequency, Resilience, and Military Adolescent Behavior,” Military Medicine 170:7, 638–42.
  9. “Parents and Students,” Military Child Education Coalition website ( Accessed 1 August 2014.
  10. “Collaboration: Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children,” Military K-12 Partners website. ( Accessed 1 August 2014.


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