How Do Military Moves Affect Children?

Frequent moves are a reality for most military families as the military orders its employees from one assignment to another, sometimes with little notice. According to Military HOMEFRONT, military children move four times more often on average than other U.S. children. While moves expose children to new locations and cultures, it can be tough for a kid to adjust to one new environment after another.

Personality Differences

Children who are outgoing and social tend to embrace moves easier than introverted children. According to interviews conducted by San Diego news station KPBS, outgoing children are more likely to form new friendships easily and get involved in their new schools or organizations more quickly. Introverted children struggle more with leaving friends and familiar surroundings. The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children says some children lack the coping skills that allow them to fit in when they relocate 1. Introverted older children might even want to stay behind, letting the rest of the family move without them. However, Military Move HQ reports that children who move frequently also participate in more social activities because they have more opportunity to do so than children who move less frequently 4.

Emotional Effects

Moves often occur shortly after a military parent returns from deployment or extended training, so the move might come at an already emotional time because the child is readjusting to having his parent around. Children might experience emotional extremes due to a move, such as:

  • becoming clingy
  • crying extensively
  • yelling
  • arguing
  • rebelling

According to Frederick Medway, a child psychologist at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, family members who are not part of the decision to move feel the most move-related stress. Parents can reduce the emotional effect of a move by involving them in the moving and decision-making processes.

Physical Effects

Children might experience headaches, stomachaches or other symptoms of the anxiety they are feeling. Some children even develop depression or adjustment disorders because of frequent moves, and these struggles might produce physical symptoms. According to Military Move HQ, teens who move are most likely to exhibit symptoms of depression 4. Kids who move to a new location may also get into fights with other children or may experience bullying because they are the newest children in school or in a particular neighborhood.

School Progress

Educational programs can vary significantly between schools, so moving to a new school every few years can have a profound effect on a military child’s educational progress. For example, a student moving from a school that teaches geography in ninth grade to a school that teaches it in eighth grade might completely miss the subject if he moves between those years. Debra Lu Kaiser, a blogger who grew up in the military, told the National Council on Family Relations that she completely missed concepts such as multiplication and division due to changing schools frequently because of her father's military moves 2. Emotional and physical struggles might also make it more difficult for him to fit in at school or focus on his education. However, schools in some areas with large military populations receive funding from the Department of Defense to design programs to help military kids with their challenges.