As we settle into fall, the big military moving season is behind us. And if you experienced a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) over the summer, your family is likely working hard to establish new routines at home, in the community, and at school. Whether your family members are seasoned PCS warriors or this is your first relocation, your children are most likely experiencing strong feelings about the change, including changing friends, teachers, coaches, activities, weather, places of worship, family schedules and activities, medical providers, and expectations.
While children are incredibly resilient, change inevitably results in some degree of stress. Difficulties and challenges arise when a child doesn’t have the ability or skill to handle the stress. A few warning signs to watch for after a move that may indicate your child is dealing with stress include:
- Decreased appetite or other changes in eating habits
- Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
- Upset stomach or stomach pain
You can take steps to alleviate your child’s stress during a transition. The resources and recommendations below can help support you and your child during a transition, minimizing stress in the classroom, at home, and beyond.
Before the Move
Will your new home be similar to your current one, or does your family revamp with each relocation? If age-appropriate, include your child in the discussion about the setup or your new home and include them in the ongoing process. This could be a great way to help them feel an increased sense of control and input during a major life event that is very much out of their control.
Check in Regularly With Your Child
Check in regularly with your child about their thoughts and feelings related to the move, as well as other topics, such as the military, their experience as a military-connected youth, the service member parent’s job, etc. The video below could be used as a conversation starter — either for further insight yourself or to watch with your school-aged child and gauge their reactions and reflections to the video. (At about 1:39 into the video, the topic transitions from deployment to moving and new schools.)
Remember that even if your child seems to be coping well, it’s a good idea to still check in regularly. To keep resilient kids resilient, it’s best to nurture their “bounciness” and not take it for granted.
Talk With Your Child’s Teachers and Other Professionals
A large majority of students attend public schools where faculty and staff may not be as familiar with military culture. This could impact how well they handle the unique challenges of military-connected students in their classrooms and schools. Work with your child’s teachers, providers, coaches, and other professionals to help them learn more about military culture.
Check in with the Military Child Education Coalition for additional resources geared toward parents, students and professionals. They also provide peer-to-peer mentoring programs across the country with the goal to help ease the difficulties of transition and further unite military-connected and civilian youth across campuses. And among their wealth of related resources on this topic, they have also published A Military Parent’s Guide to School Policies & Transitions.
Balancing Communication With Old Friends
If your child uses social media or technology to maintain contact with friends from the last duty station, talk with them about balance. Help them harness the wonderful power of technology to maintain communication and relationships more easily while helping them also engage in their new environment and with new people.
Ask About Resuming or Starting New Activities
Ask your child if they’d like to resume the activities, clubs or sports they were previously a part of. Or find out if they’d like to use this opportunity to explore a new interest. Scout out the offerings at their school, on the installation through Youth Services, in the community through leagues, through the YMCA/YWCA or Boys and Girls Club, and in your place of worship.
Mental Healthcare for Your Child
If your child could benefit from speaking with a military culturally competent counselor — for supportive purposes rather than having specific clinical needs — consider arranging for your child to speak with a Military Family Life Consultant. They are often embedded in the schools that surround military installations.
If your child was previously engaged in mental healthcare, request that current and new mental health providers coordinate and consult on care to provide a warm handoff of your child’s care. If you were utilizing an off-post/base provider previously, consider providing written permission for records to be released — with particular attention to any discharge plans and recommendations from the initial provider.
For children with ongoing care, the Tricare Case Management Program can be an invaluable resource in helping you maintain continuity of care for your family member. It can also lessen some of your own stress as another advocate helps you locate providers in your new community.
Consider using Military OneSource for counseling referrals, which can provide you and your children (aged 6 and older) up to 12 sessions at no cost to you. This could directly benefit your family, as mentally and emotionally healthy parents are better equipped for supporting their children.
Be Hyperaware During the First Year of Your Move
When a move is fresh for everyone, a parent is more actively aware of warning signs that their child may be having a difficult time. During the entire first year of your move, be extra diligent in watching for warning signs that your child is suffering from stress. After your move, especially during the first year, your child may be suffering from a sense of grief and loss — each season marks something new your child may grieve or miss since moving, such as the first homecoming dance without their old group of friends; the first basketball season without a familiar and trusted coach; and the first birthday party to plan in a new home.
The bottom line: Moving is hard for everyone in your family, including your pets. Remember to keep the lines of communication open with your child, even when your questions about their school day are met with “fine” and “nothing.” As your children support your family’s mission of serving the country, continue to support your children and nurture the resilience and strength they show. And know that even “bouncy,” strong, well-adjusted, and seasoned PCS-champion children experience times in their lives where the stress exceeds their skills and abilities.
For more guidance on specific warning signs that your child is feeling stressed and additional suggestions for how to seek help, our page for military families has an abundance of information tailored toward children’s mental wellbeing and military families.