Military moves are life events filled with generous amounts of highs and lows. Maybe this PCS has you buying your first house, or if you’ve already owned your own home, you decided the time was right to go all in for your family’s dream home. After all, you tell yourself – and your spouse and kids – that each military move is a grand adventure. And on some level, it is. As an adult, you have the tools to cope with the significant changes that come with multiple military moves but keep in mind that your children don’t yet have those skills.
According to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) latest Demographics Profile of Active-Duty Families, 34.5% have children. And to break down the percentage of school-age children, 32.7% are ages 6 to 11, and 22.3% fall in the 12 to 18 age group – adding up to about 2 million military kids potentially bouncing from one school to another. On average, military kids move every two to four years or three times more than their civilian contemporaries. That’s a lot of school-aged children who are socially and academically impacted by moving.
Although PCSing causes added stress to every family member, kids, especially middle and high school teens dealing with the physiological upheaval of puberty on top of everything else, are further affected.
Kids feel a deep sense of loss when they’re uprooted and the familiar life they know is disrupted. They’re not just losing a home or their safe space; they’re leaving friends, their favorite teacher, church, extracurricular activities, a specific culture, and all their social connections. That’s quite an anxiety-inducing list. And now they must start from nothing to rebuild everything they’ve lost.
Preparing kids early for a move will go a long way in helping them settle into an unfamiliar environment. Plus, military families have many resources they can tap into that offer help during and after a PCS.
Here is a checklist that will help to ease the burden of military moves on parents and children.
Approach change with a positive attitude and do it early. Moving is big family news. Don’t keep it to yourself. Most kids will adjust, but they need time. Remember, they’re saying goodbye to close friends, teachers, and coaches who have impacted their lives. Those ties are difficult to break. But this is the time to emphasize all of the positive elements in the move. You might have to research to find something to get your kid’s attention away from their losses. Will you be close to the beach? Maybe you’ll be an hour away from the ski slopes, and the kids can learn to ski. There’s a riding school nearby. What kid doesn’t want to learn to ride a horse? If your new home has a fenced yard, this could be the ideal opportunity for your kids to get that dog they’ve wanted. You get the idea.
Gather the whole family when you break the news. Acknowledge that they might be sad or even angry. If they are, allow them the opportunity to explain their feelings. This is an excellent time to give children positive information about their new home. Make sure you can answer any questions they might have, especially about schools. Again, you’ll need to research the community you’re moving to. Kids have a lot of questions in general, and they’re going to have a ton of them now. If you sound confident, then you can ease some of the anxiety your children feel.
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Gather as much information on schools as possible before moving. For most parents, it’s all about the schools. Finding the right schools is paramount when moving. There are many resources available that will allow you to get familiar with local schools and figure out which will offer your kids the best advantages. You can begin with the internet, which offers several websites that rate and review schools. They offer a lot of information ranging from test scores to specific school ratings. You can check out niche.com (includes private and public schools), schooldigger.com, and publicschoolreview.com. But to get information specific to military parents, explore schoolquest.org, which offers a free online tool to help with frequent school transitions. The site is designed as a guide for both parents and students.
Another resource is the School Liaison Office at your new post. Military life has specific challenges for families, and a School Liaison Officer can provide you with a range of free services that help to pave the way for a smooth transition for military students in PreK through 12. And don’t forget to use social media to connect with the local PTA/PTO groups and military parents in your new community.
Once you’ve narrowed down the schools, ask more questions before PCSing. You’ve done what you can to quell the anxiety levels of your family while planning the move, but a new school presents a host of challenges to parents and students under the best circumstances. To alleviate as many stressors as possible, dive deeply to gather all the information you can about the new school. And if you’ve done your homework, you found schools that support military children.
Here’s a checklist:
- School registration requirements: Although every school is different, most will require your copy of orders, immunization records, and proof of residency. Create a folder with all necessary documentation and have it ready to take to the new school.
- Get the school calendar as soon as possible: You’ll need to know these critical dates. Also, find out the school’s summer hours.
- How schools manage students with specific needs: How do they support new students with documented academic issues, or, conversely, how do they provide for gifted students? Can the school offer appropriate placement for students with special needs?
- Research the school specialists: It’s essential that if your child is currently working with a specialist, they continue to do so in their new school. Discuss continuity of care with the new school. Check with school administrators about the procedure for reviewing and implementing a new student’s IEP or 504 Plan.
- Get involved: Find out about parent/teacher conferences at the new school. If possible, volunteer with the PTA/PTO.
- Find out if the school offers an orientation program for new students: And if they provide buddy programs, that’s a bonus. Support systems go a long way toward ensuring your child has a successful transition.
Being in a military family isn’t always easy. Relocating and leaving friends and a familiar way of life behind is traumatic. And as the new kid in school or the stranger in the neighborhood, it’s easy to feel pushed out of your comfort zone. But PCSing can also be a positive move that leads to resilience and the excitement of new relationships. With careful planning and sensitivity, you can ensure your family experiences a smooth transition.