New Kid on the Block… Again: Helping Military Kids Cope with Relocation and Bullying

By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.

Is there a more quintessential bullying target than “the new kid”? As someone who attended far more than one school throughout my childhood education, I can say with conviction that being “the new kid” can be a struggle. Changing schools can be a profound burden for kids. Not only do they have to leave behind all of the friends they have made at their previous schools, but they also have to try to fit into a new environment full of kids who have pre-established relationships. Now imagine having to do this every two to three years. That’s how frequently military personnel are typically transferred to new locations, meaning that their kids may attend as many as nine schools (Elfman, 2017).

What Does Relocation have to do with Bullying?

According to Marci Hertz, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention, any perception of a child as somehow “different” by his or her peers can be a catalyst for bullying (Arrington, 2013). For military-connected kids, differences from peers can be abundant. As the “new kid” at school, kids who have relocated start out different from their new schoolmates immediately. In addition, military-connected kids may have very different home lives from those of their peers.

This can lead to isolation and feeling like an outsider when transitioning into a new school environment. Matthew Gladden, another scientist working within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention, further notes that bullying is not always physical and can manifest through verbal aggression and cyber bullying as well (Arrington, 2013).

What Can Parents Do?

Hertz states that parents can play an important role in the prevention of bullying through proper role modeling at home (Arrington, 2013). What kids see at home often shapes their own behavior; so, demonstrating that bullying is not okay at home will lead to imitation of good values and behaviors. Hertz also encourages parents to ask their kids if they are being bullied at school, and stresses the importance of staying aware of the social circles with which their children are affiliated (Arrington, 2013). Finally, military parents specifically, should make an effort to familiarize themselves with local bullying policies in their schools and communities, as these often vary between locations (Arrington, 2013). Relocation can obviously be stressful for the entire family and moving represents only one of the many unique stressors military families face. But, keeping an open dialogue amongst the entire family when acclimating to a new location can help minimize the potential for a negative impact on everyone.

What Can Providers Do?

Stop Bullying.gov provides information on what mental health professionals can do to prevent bullying, as well. This includes collecting and analyzing data to inform bullying prevention initiatives and monitoring their effectiveness. In addition, Most of these strategies focus on collaboration between mental health professionals, both within the school system and outside of it, and the community at large to engage in community-based prevention strategies. This includes developing policies to guide appropriate student behaviors. They also provide several resources dealing with bullying for mental health professionals to reference.

Further Resources

Join the MFLN Family Development team on March 22nd, 2018 at 11:00 am Eastern for a free webinar presented by Dr. Lauren Marlotte which will focus on three different types of violence impacting youth including bullying, relationship violence in teens, and school shootings. Dr. Marlotte will provide participants with information on trauma-informed approaches to polishing the protective shields of parents and youth in the face of danger and violence.

If it’s too late for you to join us in person, don’t despair! Our webinars are recorded for viewing at any time on our website, as well as YouTube; and CEUs are available for one year after the live event!

The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

References

Arrington, Y. R. (2013). Bully prevention resources for military families. Air Force Medical Service, Retrieved from: http://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/Media-Center/Display/Article/583100/bully-prevention-resources-for-military-families/

Elfman, L. (2018). Schools make room for the military. Education Digest, 83(6), 52-56.

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