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Preparing children for PCS season

According to the Blue Star Families’ 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, relocation is cited as a top stressor for military families, particularly among children. Photo credit: Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen

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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - For military families, moving can occur during any time of year but generally takes place during the peak months of May through August. During this transition of saying goodbye to friends and family and moving to a new community, there is generally an increase in stress for parents as well as children.

A permanent change of station, or PCS, is defined as movement from one duty location to another and is a core aspect of military life that generally occurs every 2-3 years. According to a 2018 RAND Corporation report, each year approximately one-third of service members move to a new duty location. A PCS move involves leaving employment, finding a home, building new social support networks, establishing new routines, and adjusting to an unfamiliar place. For military children, a PCS move also means starting classes in a new school, building new friendships, and finding new social activities.

How to best prepare for a PCS move

According to the Blue Star Families' 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, relocation is cited as a top stressor for military families, particularly among children. Although relocation can be challenging, there are some helpful strategies to limit stress and foster positive benefits, such as building family resilience and making the most of the moving experience.

1.  Open communication -Inform children about the move as soon as possible. Have an open, sit-down discussion about the move, and allow time for everyone to talk about what excites and worries them about the move. Develop a calendar as a visual reminder to help count down the time to moving.

2.  Active listening -Encourage children to talk about their feelings and ask questions. Listen to their concerns and normalize the pros and cons of a PCS move, including feelings of excitement, sadness, worry, and confusion.

3.  Explore calming techniques - To help manage stress, establish a routine to practice healthy coping skills as a family, such as journaling, reading, deep breathing, exercising, etc. Teaching coping skills to children regularly can help them tolerate, minimize and manage anticipated and unexpected stressful situations in life.

4.  Be creative - Prior to moving, develop fun activities such as visiting favorite locations and restaurants, creating a scrapbook including pictures of friends and a to-do list to explore the new location.

5.  Encourage and empower - Involve children in researching new homes, schools, extracurricular activities, and fun facts about your new community.

6.  Assign special roles - Provide children particular roles in the moving process, such as packing boxes, hosting a yard sale, organizing items for donation, etc. Including children in the moving process can help lessen anxiety and foster a sense of pride in helping with decision-making in preparation for upcoming changes.

7.  Stay connected - Discuss ways for children to stay connected to friends. In particular, depending on the child's age, discuss both safe and unsafe options for communicating with friends and family.

Additional resources to help children

Awareness of supportive websites and military community programs designed to aid relocation challenges can serve as a protective factor for military families during the PCS season.

Sesame Street for Military Families offers relocation resources and downloadable activities to help families maintain a sense of comfort through the changes associated with military life.

PCSgrades provides trusted reviews written by fellow military families about on- and off-base housing options, schools, moving companies, youth sports, real estate agents, and more.

Military OneSource lists relocation assistance planning tools, free resources, and support to help plan a PCS move.

The Defense Health Agency supports our nation by improving health and building readiness - making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.

NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.

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