Military life is gratifying, but it's not for the faint of heart. New military families have to quickly learn how to get comfortable with the unpredictability of the lifestyle, and a PCS move is one of the most common (and sometimes unpredictable) changes a family can undergo.
Most military families anticipate a move every two to three years and come to expect PCS orders. In best-case scenarios, families receive their orders months in advance so they can plan. But in some cases, a PCS is received unexpectedly.
A move can be tough on the entire family, especially a child, whether planned or last-minute. Here are six helpful military moving tips to help a child through an upcoming PCS move.
1. Start the Conversation about Moving Early
For a child, moving to a new place can feel overwhelming. They might wonder things like: Where will I live? Where will I go to school? Who will be my new friends?
As a military parent, helping your child cope with a move can feel like another thing on your to-do list, but it's critical that kids feel supported when they undergo a significant change. Let your child know as soon as your family gets PCS orders. If they're too young to understand the implications of a move, try showing them a cartoon or reading them a story about moving.
2. Be Sure to Say Your Goodbyes
Saying goodbye might be all too familiar for some military families, but it doesn't make it any easier — especially for a child. If time permits, consider speaking with your child's teacher about an in-class going away party, where your child can celebrate their friendships with their classmates one last time. A going away party is also an excellent time for older children to set up a pen pal system and collect contact information from their classmates to stay connected.
Another way parents can make a PCS move more of a celebration than a goodbye is by hosting a going away party with local friends and family. A get-together is a great way to spend time with the important people in your life before moving. If you can't get local friends and family together, consider a virtual going away party via Zoom or committing to a FaceTime call before you leave.
If, at any point, you notice your child has difficulty saying goodbye, you can also try reframing it as a "see you later" and explain to them that goodbye doesn't have to mean forever.
3. Try to Make Your PCS Move Fun
There are many ways to make a military move fun for a child. First, start brainstorming ideas for their new bedroom and thinking about how you can repurpose any decorations that you already have in new and exciting ways. You and your child can also do DIY crafts, print out photo collages, string twinkle lights, or add a fresh coat of paint once you arrive at your new home. Kids love having creative freedom, especially when it comes to their rooms, so let this move be a chance for them to reinvent their style.
You may also consider taking a virtual tour of your new neighborhood and school. Google your new home or school address and click on “Street View” to look around the area. Check to see how close you are to ice cream, parks, restaurants and other fun activities.
Whether you're driving or flying to your new home, travel games are a fun way to pass the time — just don't forget to pack plenty of snacks!
4. Make Sure Your Child Is the First to Settle into Your New Home
Children love consistency. If possible, make unpacking their room a priority, and if they're old enough, consider making it their responsibility (with some help, of course). Let your child decide where their furniture and toys go and how to decorate their space. When children can make their own choices, it allows them to exert some control over their circumstances, which can help reduce anxiety and make them feel more optimistic about a PCS move.
5. Find Supportive Resources as Soon as Possible
A PCS move is a lot to handle, but there are many supportive services to help military families adjust to a new home. Connect with your child's school, the local recreation center, or an Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) branch for helpful resources to get your family plugged into your community as soon as possible.
The ASYMCA provides innovative and interactive programs and services designed especially for junior-enlisted service members, their spouses and children. We understand the unique challenges that military families face and strive to provide experiences to help families navigate military life through transfers, deployments, increased childcare needs and financial burdens. All services are offered at low to no cost and require no membership fees.
6. Embrace the Adventure
It may sound simple, but embracing a PCS move as another part of military life can make the journey easier for your entire family. With the proper planning (when possible), time to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, the right travel essentials, and getting your child involved in as much of the moving process as possible, a PCS with kids can be an exciting new chapter full of possibilities!