Sonya Murdock has been an Army wife for seven years and is a former columnist for the Fayetteville Observer-Times. Her article from MilitaryMoney gives some great tips on how to help kids PCS. Here is her advice:
1. Discuss the impending move with your child as soon as you get orders
Keep a positive attitude. One Military mom suggests filling your repertoire with statements like, “I can’t wait to move again!” or “I wonder where we’ll be stationed next time!” By making relocation seem routine, your kids will assume all families move every other year, just like you. Instead of fighting over the biggest bedroom in their new quarters, this mom’s children negotiate whose turn it is to get the big room.
Get advice. Learn how to talk with your children about an upcoming PCS by contacting your Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) representative or your unit chaplain. Family counseling and parenting classes are also offered at the family center.
Communicate. Keep in mind that small children may have difficulty differentiating a PCS from a parent’s deployment and fear that mommy or daddy is going away without them.
2. Include your children in the planning process
Map out the drive to your new duty station together. Visit Mapquest.com (or Google Maps) for assistance with plotting your course and give the kids places to locate along the route to make the trip fun and interesting.
3. Allow your child to help with packing and unpacking.
Have them pick out favorite toys. Take a small box filled with these toys in the car during your move. This will be a godsend if your household goods are going into storage while you wait for government housing to become available.
Familiarity. Stop by the housing office and get floor plans of the quarters in which you will be living. Your children may enjoy planning where their furniture should be placed in their new rooms.
4. Visit your new duty station before the move so your children will know what to expect
Include the kids in your house hunt, if you are planning to live off post. If living on post, drive through the neighborhoods so your children see that their new home will be similar to Military housing at your current duty station. While driving around the installation, stop at general points of interest like the commissary, post/base exchange, parks and schools.
5. Speaking of schools…
Visit your child’s new school. This way he/she can meet the teacher, principal, as well as students in his/her class. Giving your kids the chance to see the classroom and navigate the halls before the first day of school will take a lot of the fear out of moving.
Attend newcomer orientations. These are offered at many schools on Military installations before the start of the new school year.
Get a buddy. If your PCS falls during the school year, ask that your child be assigned a “buddy” for the first few days to help them find their way around and meet new friends. Your school liaison officer can also help.
Take documents. If you have an Exceptional Family Member, hand-carry their education records on your visit to guarantee adequate arrangements are made prior to arrival.
6. If you are unable to make a trip before the move, do your research online
7. Request a sponsor for your child
Having a peer to talk with can take much of the anxiety out of relocating. Your RAP representative can help you sign up for sponsorship. Children are assigned sponsors based on similar interests, age and gender. A sponsor will write to your child before the move and be a friend upon arrival to your new home.
8. Make the move fun
Many Military families use a PCS as a chance to take a family vacation, since they are between homes and on the road anyway.
Before heading down the road, check out the Armed Forces Recreation Centers around the world. Hotel rates are based on a servicemember’s rank and are therefore more affordable than comparable civilian lodging. Many Armed Forces Recreation Centers can be found in vacation hotspots.
On the road, play car games, videos and music to take the boredom out of those long stretches between breaks. After all, you will average 350 miles per day while driving to your new post (based on military estimates).
Older children have different issues from their younger siblings. Changing schools can be especially difficult for teens, as they try to fit in with their new peer groups and gain acceptance of established social cliques.
New Army regulations allow parents of high school seniors to request a PCS be postponed until after their teens graduate. Requests must be made during the student’s junior year of high school. Check with your unit command to find out more about this new Army regulation.
Visit the Defense Department’s website Military Teens On The Move and learn about ways to deal with the stress your teen might be facing.
Check with your family center to see if they offer newcomers’ briefings for children. The youth and teen centers on base often hold briefings specifically geared towards the concerns of Military children.
These centers also host summer camps, classes, field trips, dances and after-school programs in which children of all ages can get involved and make friends.
10. Once you arrive at your new installation…
Explore your new surroundings, including the base and outside community. Get maps from your family center, brochures of local tourist attractions from your Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office, and recommendations from the locals on what’s hot in your new area.
Attend the family center’s Newcomers’ Briefings, which are held on a regular basis. You will receive information to help your family get acclimated to the new installation.
Socialize. Encourage your child to get outside and meet other children who live in the neighborhood. If your PCS falls in the summer, as most do, your child will have a whole gang of new pals by the time they show up for the first day of school. According to a third-grade teacher at Fort Campbell, KY, the summer socializing within post neighborhoods often eliminates the need for any school intervention or orientation program.
Live in government housing, if possible. One Army mom says this is a way parents can shelter their children from the harsh reality of constant relocation. Military schools treat new kids as “instant celebrities,” she confides. On post, all the other children will be familiar with your child’s situation. Military children expect new kids in the neighborhood and at school on a regular basis. New kids are therefore accepted more readily than in civilian schools.
Educate. If you are moving overseas, utilize your family center’s tapes, books, and classes to help your children learn about the country, its customs and cultures. Sponsorship is a good idea for families relocating OCONUS.
Finally, understand and support your child’s need to keep in touch with old friends from your last assignment. Just as you are anxious to call your friends and let them know your new address so they can contact you, your children also need to stay connected to their old friends. This will help them feel less isolated as they begin to develop new friendships at their new home.
And before you know it, they will be too busy cultivating those budding friendships to lament the friends they’ve left behind.