July 27, 2019
PCS-ing is not easy for any member of a military family.
We like to call our milkids resilient and brave. But they’re definitely not immune to the difficulties that come with adjusting to a new school. You know, difficulties like being the new kid at school once again, missing old friends, and navigating a different curriculum.
To make the transition more fair and cohesive for our military kids, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children—a policy voluntarily adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia—is a step in the right direction.
Though, as parents and primary advocates of our milkids, it’s only natural to want to eliminate any trepidation or roadblocks throughout this roller coaster ride of military life. That way, our kids can get back to being kids.
All that to say, here are our eight tried-and-true tips to help your child adjust to a new school after a PCS.
1. Do Your Homework to Smooth the Transition
Get started as soon as you receive those orders! Join your new neighborhood or duty station’s Facebook group to ask questions and research the best school districts in the area. Familiarize yourself with the curriculum as soon as you know the school your milkid will be attending. And identify the resources available to you, which include:
- School Liaison Officers (SLOs): serve as the point of contact on installations for all things school-related, and assist families whose children’s education may have been affected by military life.
- Military Child Education Coalition’s Student 2 Student Program: provides support to military-connected and civilian students through student-led, peer-to-peer mentoring programs at the K-12 levels.
- Gratitude Initiative (G.I.): offers educational support (college and career counseling, awareness programs) and college scholarships to children of military service members.
- Purple Star Designation Program: recognizes schools (currently in Ohio, Virginia, and soon Texas) that have demonstrated a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military.
2. Add a Few PCS-Friendly Books to Your Family’s Library
Stories are compelling. Reading your child a story that’s relevant to his or her PCS experience can illustrate they’re not alone on this journey. And, at the same time, help them cope with their feelings and promote increased communication (related to the transition) as a family.
All that to say, here are some PCS-friendly books we recommend adding to your family’s library:
- Before I Leave: A Picture Book (ages 3-6) by Jessixa Bagley
- The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day (ages 3-7) by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Big Ernie’s New Home (ages 2-5) by Teresa Martin and Whitney Martin
- Boomer’s Big Day (ages 2-4) by Constance W. McGeorge
- Flexible Wings (ages 8-12) by Veda Stamps
- Kids! We Have PCS Orders! (ages 3-7) by James R. Thomas and Susan M. Vertullo
- Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe (ages 8-10) by Susan Patron
- Where I Live (ages 7-10) by Eileen Spinelli
3. Take a Tour of Your New Community and School
Everyone is going to have things they’ll miss about the last duty station. But it’s important you get out there as a family and cruise around town. Find similarities (like your favorite pizza joint or ice cream shop) as well as new favorites. Adjusting will come a bit easier when the family feels a little more “at home.”
Also, after completing the registration paperwork, if you’re allowed to tour the school, jump on it! An open house is also a great time. Walking through the halls and meeting the teachers will put your kids at ease and reduce first-day jitters. Not to mention, it’ll allow you the opportunity to lay the groundwork with school professionals. That way, you can communicate early and often about your child’s progress—not just academically, but socially, too.
4. Encourage Involvement (from Back-to-School Shopping to Extracurricular Activities!)
Give them the chance to make some decisions on their own. Let them pick out the school supplies, their outfit for the first day, and even how they’d like to get involved in their new community—whether it be through a sports team, theatre group, extracurricular club; you name it. The goal here is to inspire them to put themselves out there. You want them to make new friends while obtaining more confidence and decision-making opportunities following a transition they had absolutely zero say in.
Same goes for you, too! If your schedule allows, consider volunteering at school or helping out with a sports team or club your child joins. Taking an active role in their new environment will help you get to know their new friends and other parents much quicker.
5. Talk It Out
Reassure your kids, letting them know you’re on this journey together! Make an effort to tune-up your listening ears and ask them how they’re feeling. Learn what they’re excited and nervous about, and if they have any questions about anything they might want to know.
Additionally, share some examples of the first time you’ve done something and your take on change in a positive way. While it’s difficult, it gives everyone involved an opportunity to grow and meet new and lifelong friends you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Remember, the way you talk about this process will shape how your child views it.
6. Take a Test Run
Are you living within walking distance from school? Or are the kids taking the bus? Practice the route together by walking to the bus stop or school, or driving them there. Make sure they’re familiar with the route and, if applicable, the times the bus picks them up and where, and how to get home.
7. Replicate a First Day of School Tradition (or Create a New One!)
Do you eat a special breakfast as a family, like donuts or funny shaped pancakes? Or make a stop at the local library on the way home to pick out a new book? Maybe even a show-and-tell dinner or ice cream party to talk through the day? Continue those traditions to create a sense of familiarity and fun—despite how strange and new things might feel at the moment.
8. Be on the Lookout for Possible Adjustment Woes
Some moves may come easier than others. That said, be alert for possible adjustment difficulties. Here are some signs to lookout for if your milkid is having a tough time:
- Excessive illness on school days
- Troubled sleep patterns
- Actively avoiding any discussion of school
- Social isolation
- Decline in academic performance
If any of these issues arise, know that there are steps you can take to provide your child with the additional support they need, such as hiring a tutor and one-on-one meetings with the teacher or school counselor. The most important thing to remember is that patience is critical.
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