Kids and PCS: Helping Little Ones Cope
If you’ve been in the military for any length of time, you know first-hand the reaction that comes when you hear these three little initials: P.C.S. Permanent Change of Station. When you consider that many military families relocate every two years, the “P” seems more like “Potential” than “Permanent.”
The stress that can come with relocating a family can be a major headache, or it can be fuel for excitement. The way you handle moves with your children can make all the difference. Here are a few tips:
Before the move:
- Talk it up. If you know the orders are coming, start laying the groundwork for a stress-free move by making relocation just another part of the routine. You can discuss how exciting it is to explore new parts of the amazing country we live in. Learn fun facts about different places and start a collection (my child keeps rocks from every place we’ve ever lived). You can even tack a map on the wall and wonder out loud where you’ll be stationed next time. (Important note – For this to fly, you have to genuinely be excited and full of wonder – kids can sense a phony a mile away. So if you’re not excited and looking forward to it, they won’t either. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it, and find another way to cope.)
- Plan together. Pull up a couple of chairs and go online together to map out the trip to your new home. Let the kiddos locate fun places to stop along the way – and actually stop there to have fun.
- Let them pack their own stuff. If they’re old enough to read, they’re old enough to pack their own boxes. This is a win in two ways: first, there’s one item crossed off your to-do list. Plus, little Suzy doesn’t have to worry that you’re going to throw out her collection of Monster High dolls “by accident” during the move. Giving kids control over their belongings also lets them feel a little more secure in an otherwise insecure situation, which can go a long way in helping them adjust.
On the road:
- Bring a “go” bag. Pack a suitcase of overnight clothes, toiletries and important stuff for the car – but also pack a “go” bag loaded with games, snacks, drinks, music or other special items just for them to make the drive more fun.
- Brake for fun. A lot of families build in time for a family vacation along the way. Whether that’s a trip to an amusement park, a state park, or just a stop to see the world’s largest thimble, make your time together memorable in a good way.
- Let them nest. Kids can choose where they want their belongings, and if they’re old enough, let them help direct the movers where to place the furniture.
- Get familiar with new surroundings. Explore the new post together. Find important places like school, church, shopping or favorite restaurants together.
Remember that younger kids might get confused about the difference between PCS and deployment. Reassure your youngsters that mommy and daddy aren’t going away without them and keep the lines of communication open.
Moving doesn’t have to mean stressing. You can contact your Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) representative or your unit chaplain to talk about any concerns, or find out how to talk with kids about moving. There are usually family counseling and parenting classes offered at installation family centers if you’d like to get additional help.
And remember to help your kids keep in touch with old friends even while they are developing bff’s at their new home. Before too long, you’ll have another new adventure to start, and you can trust that your children will be ready and resilient – just like their parents.