There are plenty of questions no kid wants to hear. Who spilled that? Isn’t it time to do your homework? You want me to find something for you to do?
But the question no military child wants to hear (from my highly scientific sample of my Air Force brat siblings and Navy brat children) is:
“Are you ready to move?”
Most of the time, the answer is something like, “No. NO! Please, no. Nonononononononoooooooooooo!!!”
Even though the average military children moves six to nine times between Kindergarten and high school graduation, military kids don’t necessarily welcome the move.
Like anyone else, kids don’t want things to change. It is hard enough to make friends when you feel weird without moving and making yourself twenty billion times weirder.
We aren’t even moving, but we dared suggest to our son Peter last month that because he is switching into middle school, he could think about attending a different school up the street. Smaller classrooms. Less craziness. A uniform.
The blood drained from Peter’s face. White and strained, he gripped the kitchen counter. “No. NO! I don’t want to go!”
Peter isn’t as well moved as his sibs. Because we did a geographic bachelor tour between two tours at the Pentagon, Peter has only attended one elementary school. His older siblings attended four elementary schools each. I went to three myself.
But I’m not hardened to him. And I am not hardened to the genuine pain that comes with a move for kids—even if it is best for the family.
According to the National Military Family Association, military children will say good-bye to more significant people by age 18 than the average person will in their lifetime.
Still, unless you are going to embrace the hassles that come with a geographic bachelor tour, your kids will have to move. And you, Kind Parent, are going to be the one helping them deal.
Here are some tips we collected for all kids and some for kids of particular age groups. Do you have any that we missed?
To tell or not to tell?
The question of when to tell kids that you are moving is hotly debated. After 16 moves, I am one for holding off on the telling as long as possible. Toddlers don’t care. Elementary kids panic. Preteens tell all their friends and are hurt when friends start pulling away because “you won’t be here next year”—even when the move is still nine months away.
Blogger (and former teacher) Heather Sweeney argues for telling right away—best not to keep secrets from kids because they are going to find out anyway.
Find some good local gouge.
Lots of military parents have had good luck with their kids by making the move sound like an adventure. If you are moving younger kids, you might find a book specific to their new base here. Or your housing center may offer a packet about the new base.
For older kids, get the AAA book for the area if you or your parents are members. Or look on Amazon to find tourist guides for all kinds of unlikely places.
Although googling top rated tourist attractions for your new state is also good, there is something reassuring about the presence of printed material.
Give your kids some power.
One of the things I like about websites like the DoD’s Military Youth on the Move and Military Kids Connect is the way they put some of the responsibility for the move squarely in the kid’s capable hands.
One suggestion I like is for the preteen to make a list of all the things they do not know about the new duty station, then set out to get some answers.
Heather Sweeney notes that 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.) Read more of Heather's moving tips here.
Do some PCS Calculus.
When it comes to moving a family, all family members are not created equal. Some kids needs have to get a higher priority depending on their stage of life. This means you end up doing some PCS Calculus.
Ask each of your children when is most important to them about the move, what scares them most, what they would love to happen most. Write it down. It is better to know what kids want (and have them know you know) than to guess.
Move the unborn.
Even though they are too young to know you are moving, a PCS can be important to your coming baby, too. Army wife blogger Maria said, “When you are pregnant and moving, you gotta get your act together — especially if you are moving overseas.”
You gotta eat, rest and redecorate. Find her tips for the much-too-pregnant PCS here
Move your toddler.
Early childhood professional Margaret St. Andre is a fan of naming everything when it comes to moving your toddler. “Use phrasing for young children such as, ‘This is Pack-Up Day where the movers will put your toys in boxes to take to the new house.’ This is Goodbye Day where we will say bye-bye to our friends, This is Airplane Day …”
Margaret also suggests that you iInclude events that are unrelated to the move like birthdays or planned play dates. This will help your child keep track as time passes because he can refer to events rather than days.” Find more of her tips for moving toddlers here.
Move your school aged child.
Getting your elementary child resettled is all about the friends. Fortunately, at this age you have lots of power when it comes to creating friend-making opportunities. At one of our Spouse X events, military parents came up with five ways to help your kid make friends fast.
Move your special needs child.
Think of your annual IEP meeting. Think of that process doubled. Or tripled. Or quadrupled. (Well, maybe not quadrupled.)
As any parent of a special needs kid will tell you, there are some extra hoops during a PCS move.
Sarah Stockwell, PhD, As the Facebook administrator for American Military Families Autism Support (AMFAS) came up with 16 stressbusting tips for dealing with your new neighborhood, your new house, your concerns, and the EFMP program that work great for special needs kids here.
Move your teenager.
You may not, in fact, want to move your teenager. But it is the law. You have to take them with you.
You can try stealth bombing a new school with your kids. You can cross your fingers and send them a link to teen content on Military Youth of the Move. You can print a list of teen tips from Military OneSource or NMFA's Teen Toolkit. You can pray.
I’ve moved my teens three times. I think the only thing I did that did any good was to listen to them and pretty much agree with them that a move is a suckfest. They stopped being mad faster when I didn’t try to be positive and talk them out of how they felt about the move.
Instead, I closed my eyes and thought of England. And of the day that they would have friends again—which came sooner than they thought it would.
Have some faith in them.
Blogger Mary Douglas wrote about that saying that military children are like dandelions. “They can put down roots almost anywhere. They are impossible to destroy. They adapt easily and can survive nearly anywhere. Military children bloom everywhere the wind carries them and they stand ready to fly into breezes to take them into new adventures, new lands and new friends.”
As much as your kid might not want to do a move. The fact is that they probably can and that when they grow up they will talk about how these moves shaped them—and what you did to help.