Introduction: Managing household transitions

Transitions are a major feature of military family life (Rogers 2020). There are many ways to support families during these periods.

Family and social workers can partner with parents to ensure families feel comfortable communicating with you about the changes that are going to occur in the family. This could include: 

  • parents leaving for training
  • absence from home
  • relocations
  • work-ups (where the ADF member trains for deployment or exercise)
  • leaving for deployments
  • returning home from deployments. 
Check with parents that they are ready for you to start discussing the change. e.g. Does the child know yet?

Once you have permission to talk with the child, communicate with the parent about what you have worked on with the child each day in that area. That allows the parent to follow up at home with discussions and other activities. Ensure you share any information about misconceptions or particular anxieties the child might have or areas where the child shows more understanding.

silhouette of man holding luggage inside airport

Change happens every day, so talk with the child about changes that have happened to others and how they have coped. You might give examples of stories from books, or friends, or even your own life. Children pick up on stress within the home around change, so ensure children know it is normal that change brings busyness. Discuss everyday changes the child will relate to, such as visiting family and eating different foods, having a new pillow or bed, or a new routine i n the house. 

You could also help the child create a mantra about change, that life is about 'Same, Same, Different, Same, Same, Different. Talk about the fact that not all change is bad. Some change is fun, exciting, and an adventure, but there are lots of new things to get used to. Also, talk about that it is normal to feel a bit sad and people miss what is left behind.


Military families generally relocate frequently. This can be as often as every two years, or even more frequently. In this audio recording (2 minutes) Early Childhood Consultant, Emily Small outlines some of the ways educators can work with families to support the child through the relocation process.

woman in blue sleeveless dress sitting on bed

Activity Ideas and Suggestions

  • In a corner, add some suitcases, packing boxes, string, labels, newspaper and other items for packing.
  • Ask children to build two houses for some stuffed toys or dolls out of recycled materials and blocks. Ask children to organise packing all the furniture from one house, then organise transport and trucks for the furniture and separate transport for the family to get them to the next house. The children can help the family to unpack and help them feel settled. You can have one of the toys feeling sad and another feeling excited. Have a look at the rope doll activities in the Children's Resources. They can have any emotions the children choose for them. There is also a pamphlet about encouraging block play in this module that may give you some more ideas.
  • Support the child to create an age-appropriate narrative, or create a narrative for them to describe what will happen when they move. Help the child practice the narrative, and share the narrative with the parent.
  • Acknowledge that concepts about time and space are developing, so understanding family relocations and deployments can be difficult. Use tools such as homemade sticker calendars, maps, globe,  Google Docs, to build tangible concepts.

In this audio recording (3 mins), Early Childhood Education Consultant, Emily Small discusses ways educators can support families during transition periods, including during relocations and when parents work away.

Transitions as parents go away for work, then return

Behaviour around the time of transitions often changes. Be aware of potential changes and note down when they are likely to occur after talking to the parent. Plan activities that are calming, that the child really enjoys and activities that will foster pretend play and emotional expression.

Pre-empting behaviour changes in children can be of huge benefit not only for the child to be supported appropriately but also for support workers and families. 

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Last modified: Friday, 17 February 2023, 3:43 PM