Top 10 Ways to Prepare Military Kids for a PCS

Master Sgt. Krisopher Whetzel, a Nevada Air National Guardsman, is greeted by his kids upon his return from deployment. (US Army/Paul Macomber)
Master Sgt. Krisopher Whetzel, a Nevada Air National Guardsman, is greeted by his kids upon his return from deployment. (US Army/Paul Macomber)

The planning that goes into a PCS move can stress even the best of us military spouses to our limits. And just as we go through a roller coaster of emotions while we pack up our lives and start over somewhere new, our kids are right there beside us going through their own emotional ride.

So what can we do to help make the moving adventure less stressful on our kids? Here are 10 ways to prepare military kids for a PCS:

1. Tell them about the move ASAP. It's really easy to keep putting it off because it's not really a fun conversation to have, especially because it's often difficult to predict how each child will react. But news tends to travel fast, and you want to make sure the kids hear it from you, not from the neighbor you told last week or the moving checklist you left sitting on the kitchen counter. Plus, kids are very perceptive. If you're stressed, they probably sense something is going on.

2. Communication is key. Kids may not know that it's perfectly normal to feel excited one minute and scared the next, curious one minute and angry the next. Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings and ask questions. If they're not talkers, have them write in a journal or draw pictures. Sharing your own feelings helps to open the lines of communication, so talk about what's going through your head too.

3. Empower them. Find age-appropriate ways to get the kids involved in the moving process. Let them help you look at houses online. Encourage them to pack their own stuff. Even minor decisions like what color marker to use to label boxes can make a big difference in helping your children feel like involved participants.

4. Use online support. Sometimes kids are more receptive to new ideas when they hear it from someone other than their parents. That's where websites like Military Kids Connect step in. Both sites are divided into age-appropriate categories and offer a wealth of kid-friendly advice from how to pack to being the new kid at a new school to staying in touch with friends. (They have sections for parents as well, so if you need some advice, check it out for yourself too.)

5. Read books about moving. Books are some of the best teaching tools a parent can have, especially for younger children. They educate through fun stories and illustrations, but also act as conversation starters. Visit your local library or hit up Amazon to find some good ones about moving.

6. Visit your new home. Not moving very far? Take the whole family on a road-trip to your new destination. Explore the area, including the high points like schools, the base you'll be stationed at, parks, restaurants and other local attractions.

Moving too far to visit? Explore virtually. Regardless of the distance you're moving, it's always important to research the area you're moving to in order to get yourself acquainted

7. Use your imagination. Even if you don't know what your house or neighborhood will look like, let your kids imagine what their new life will be like. How do they want to decorate their new rooms? What kinds of activities do they want to try? What do they think their teachers will be like? Have fun with it. Even if the images become outrageous and silly, a good laugh can help alleviate some stress.

8. Put aside special items. Household goods arrival times are rarely set in stone. Because you never know when you'll see your possessions again, help your kids put aside those special must-haves they can't live or travel without. For younger kids, this may include blankets or stuffed animals. For older kids, this may be iPods or books. The familiarity of their prized possessions will help them feel more secure in their new environment and keep them occupied while traveling.

9. Smile! Kids follow your lead, and if you're a PCS Debbie Downer, your kids will be too. Not thrilled about having to move for the 512th time to the most remote location possible? It's okay to be bummed, but at some point you need to embrace the suck and stay upbeat around the kids. Think of 5 positive things about the move and go from there. The kids will feed off of your excitement and start getting excited themselves.

10. Give them a chance to say see ya. Another reason to give kids an ample heads-up is to allow them a chance to say their farewells. This doesn't just mean saying "good-bye" to friends. Visit their favorite restaurant one last time, drive around the neighborhood, stop by favorite parks. Don't forget that camera!

Is "good-bye" too hard to say? One of the first lessons a military spouse ever taught me was that, in military life, it's never "good-bye," it's "see ya later."

It's a small military world, and while it's rare to run into an old MilSpouse acquaintance in a hot tub, it's not uncommon to be stationed with friends for a second time at a different base. But even if friends aren't in the same place at the same time again, remind kids that social media and email and Skype allow friendships to live on regardless of geography. Teach kids to say "see ya later" instead of "good-bye." Sometimes a simple phrase change can help children understand that moving doesn't automatically mean an ending.


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