Easing Children’s Stress During PCS Season

Lt. Tiffani Walker's children play in their last PCS playground at their home in Maryland. Courtesy photo by U.S. Navy Lt. Tiffani Walker

Lt. Tiffani Walker’s children play in their last PCS playground at their home in Maryland. Courtesy photo by U.S. Navy Lt. Tiffani Walker

By USPHS, Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, BSN, MS, DNP
Deputy Director of Population Health and Medical Management
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
Office of the Chief Medical Officer

For most kids, the end of the school year means the start of summer vacation and countless weeks playing outdoors, swimming or having other fun in the sun. For many military families, however, summer is the time for relocating to a new community once duty station orders have arrived.

Permanent change of station (PCS) transitions, which usually fall between June and August, involve saying goodbye to close friends and often moving to an unfamiliar place. Such changes can cause stress not only for parents – but for children as well.

Following the tips below can help remove some of the mental pressures of moving and better enable your kids to enjoy their summer.

Open Communication

Tell your kids you understand that moves are difficult and that it’s ok to be sad and miss their friends. Listen to their concerns and comfort them with fun activities such as creating an online scrapbook of places they would like to explore in their new location. Before moving, make sure to visit their favorite local places with close friends. Being honest and open with your kids assures them that you are listening and care.

Advance Support Network

Setting up a support network at your new location prior to leaving can help both you and your child. Military OneSource has ample information on moving to a new community, finding health care providers, military housing and more. Military Kids Connect and Military Youth on the Move are two helpful online resources for children to explore on their own.

Family Packing

Provide each member of the family with certain roles during the packing and moving process. When feeling hassled, try to stay calm because kids can sense their parents’ stress and may act out. Sesame Street’s Families Near and Far has some useful moving tips.

Grand Adventure

If time and resources permit, make the actual move a family vacation. Travel by car and stop in different locations to learn about places your family has never been before. Make it an adventure for your children and spend quality time with them as you would on any other family vacation.

Settling In

Upon reaching their new home, children may be nervous and apprehensive in meeting new people. Ask them what kinds of activities they would like to be a part of and sign them up for after-school activities and play dates.

Additional Resources

If you feel your child needs additional help dealing with the stress of moving, the Department of Defense’s Military & Family Life Consultant (MFLC) Program has a Children’s Support Program for all services and National Guard/Reserve components. MFLC offerings can be accessed through locations such as Army Community Services, Marine Corps Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers, and Airman and Family Readiness Centers.

For more information and tools on managing stress and maintaining mental wellness, visit Operation Live Well, a Department of Defense initiative designed to help military families live healthier lives.

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