Military to Civilian Life

When parents transition from military to civilian life, so do children. Your child is suddenly experiencing a lot of changes that are similar to military moves and might even call this change a move. You know that joining civilian life is not just another move, but what you’ve learned during your military years will help your family adapt to this new phase. After all, change can be an adventure…and adventures can be exciting!

Videos

Downloadable PDFs

Tips

  • It’s an Adventure!

    Help your whole family feel hopeful and excited as you adjust to another change together.

    It’s an Adventure!

    Navigating how to transition from military to civilian life isn’t always easy. Even though finding a job or building a new community can be stressful, adapting to change by framing it as another family adventure benefits everyone. Modeling an optimistic attitude for your children will go a long way in building their confidence to “weather the changes”! Consider these tips and strategies:

    Stand Like a Superhero

    To help your child “rehearse” for success in challenging situations, invite her to join you in the superhero pose: hands on hips, head held high, strong stance (feet hip-width apart). Then call out: I am strong! I am brave! I am an adventurer! You can even use a towel or blanket as a cape. (But even superheroes need a break sometimes. Remember to take care of yourself and you’ll be better able to care for your family!)

    Adventure Talk

    Discuss the upcoming (or ongoing) change together by saying things like:

    • Wherever we go, we’ll make it an adventure.
    • We’ll find the fun together.
    • We’ll meet new people and explore new places.
    • We’ll grow stronger!
    • We’ll do what needs to be done, because that’s what we do.

    Just for Kids

    We’re in This Together Print this page to take an “adventure pledge” as a family. Invite your child to color it in, then post on your refrigerator or near your dinner table.

    Bravery Badges Print out these badges and invite your child to color them. Then cut them apart and give your child one when she needs a little extra reminder that she has what it takes to meet a new challenge!

    Color My World Print a black-and-white map of your new neighborhood or city from the Internet and invite your child to color it using any colors he likes. Put it up on the refrigerator to show your child: “This new place is yours.”

    Next: Feelings & Communication
  • Feelings & Communication

    Learn easy, everyday strategies to spark important conversations with your child and provide a sense of security.

    Feelings & Communication

    Every situation, such as a taking a car ride or tucking your child in at night, is an opportunity for conversation and connection. Keeping communication open will reassure kids that you are there for them; remind them that it’s good to ask questions; and allow them to share what’s on their mind, including their worries.

    Talk It Through

    Children will likely have lots of questions and you’ll want to provide simple, concrete, honest, age-appropriate answers. Here are some ways you might respond to your child’s questions:

    • Why is Mom/Dad no longer in a uniform? She/he wore a uniform for her/his job in the military. Mom/Dad doesn’t work in the military anymore, so she/he doesn’t wear the uniform.
    • Why do I have to move/change schools? We are moving because Mom/Dad is no longer working for the military, so we are moving because [Dad has a new job, we’re going to be closer to your grandparents, we are ready for a new adventure, we can no longer live on the base, and so on]. And our new home will be too far away from your school to keep going there.
    • Who will take care of me? You will always be cared for. Some things may change [for instance, Daddy will be putting you to bed instead of Mommy]. But we’ll work together as a family to make sure we’re all okay. And you will be an important part of the changes we are going through together.
    • When is Mom/Dad getting a job? It can take a while for grown-ups to find a new job, and we don’t always know when it will happen. Sometimes it happens right away and sometimes it takes a while. But Mom/Dad learned a lot of important things in the military and can use what she/he knows in her/his new job.
    • Where will I play? Who will I play with? When we get to our new home, we’ll explore the neighborhood together and maybe even visit the playground at your new school. Your new friends will also know places to play. You’ve made new friends before, and you’ll do it again. You have a lot to offer a new friend [specify some of your child’s strengths, like sharing or being good at a particular game].
    • Will everything be different now? We might want to keep things the same but sometimes we need to change. I don’t have all the answers right now, but we’re working every day to figure things out.

    Just for Kids

    Feeling Faces Print this page and post it at children’s eye level so they can refer to it frequently. You can use it as a conversation starter anytime by saying, “Let’s look at the feeling faces.” Which one shows how you are feeling right now? You may model this first by doing it yourself.

    And Keep Talking Print this page of conversation starters and post it near the dinner table. At dinnertime, invite your child to pick a question to ask the family, calling on each person to answer until everyone has shared. Or, you can take the lead.

    Next: Changes Big & Small
  • Changes Big & Small

    Help children keep a sense of hope and excitement around the various changes that come their way.

    Changes Big & Small

    Simple behaviors can help ease children’s fears and build a sense of security through all kinds of changes. Something as simple as a special hug in the morning and reading a bedtime story together can help provide stability and reassurance. The “little things” you do together every day can make the transition out of the military more successful for the whole family. It will comfort your kids—and you, too!

    No Matter What

    To help children feel safe and secure, choose one routine that will stay constant and predictable—no matter what! Remind children exactly what they can always rely on. For instance, No matter what, you’ll have a bedtime snuggle and story every single night.

    Use Visuals

    In helping kids deal with change, cross off (or color in) days till moving day, days till school starts, and so on, on a paper calendar. You can also put photos of your former home into a small photo book for your child to refer to when talking or thinking about the future or past.

    Use Social Media

    Sometimes new connections are as close as your keyboard. For instance, you might join the Facebook page for your new parks and recreation department, or join an online group for families in transition from military to civilian communities. Support networks about military transition assistance are often just a click away.

    Community Counts

    Many veteran families seek support from other veteran families. The veteran network can be a helping hand from people who know what you are going through. Also, offering your family’s unique talents, skills, and knowledge through your community service can bridge a connection with your past and present identities, and help you stay strong as a family.

    Just for Kids

    Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going Print and post this U.S. map to give your child a sense of where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going, and where other important people are (use stickers to mark the different places).

    What Changes? What Stays the Same? Print this page and complete it together. First, explain that even though it seems like everything is changing, some things will never change. For instance, you may be moving to a new house, but it’s love that makes it a home, and that stays the same. Children will even get real comfort from little reminders such as You’ll still sleep on your favorite rainbow sheets!

    Next: Friendships
  • Friendships

    Transitions bring all kinds of changes for children, especially making new friends (while still staying in touch with old friends).

    Friendships

    Your child has been through this before! So it’s natural that he brings real strengths to new situations, such as reaching out and making new friends. Remind him often of his past successes, or how much he has to offer a new friend.

    New Friends, Old Friends

    You can help your child to stay in touch with old friends, whether by phone, text, video chat, e-mail, or letters. Young children will naturally need help with the logistics of maintaining old connections, but it can be done!

    Positive Perspective

    You can help build your child’s confidence in making new friends by reminding her of all the special things she has to offer. For instance, You’re good at sharing, and you know a lot of jokes. Those things really come in handy when you’re making new friends!

    Reaching Out

    Suggest specific ways to make new friends. For instance, approach a group playing a game and ask a question about the game. Or, bring an interesting toy to school and ask a classmate if she wants to play with it together. Or simply say, Hi, my name is _____, what’s your name?

    Just for Kids

    What Should I Say? Print this page to help your child come up with answers to questions she might be asked by new classmates, such as, Why do you move around a lot? Kids don’t always have ready answers! Write the answers on the lines and rehearse some conversations, playing the role of a new friend.

    New Friend Coupons Print this page so kids can color and cut apart these coupons and give them to new friends. It can be great to have just the right words in your pocket!

    Sign Me Up! Print this Muppet-y twist on class autograph books to help your child begin interacting with new friends—just by asking them to sign their names on his page.

    Next: The Adventure Campaign
  • The Adventure Campaign

    The Adventure Campaign

    Sign up here to be a part of The Adventure Campaign, an e-newsletter just for transitioning military and veteran families filled with fun activities and useful tips to help you navigate changes together.>>

    —————————————————————————————————————————-

    The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Defense Health Agency (DHA) of non-U.S. Government sites or the information, products, or services contained therein. Although the DHA may or may not use these sites as additional distribution channels for Department of Defense information, it does not exercise editorial control over all of the information that you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this website.

    Next: Additional Resources
  • Additional Resources

    Helpful links related to Military to Civilian Life

Do you find this content helpful?