Returning to school after a summer of fun presents a challenge for any child. For military kids starting at a new school in a new duty station after a summer PCS, the stresses of back-to-school season are even more pronounced. The prospect of navigating new buildings, building new relationships, and acclimating to unfamiliar surroundings – sometimes without familiar household goods – is enough to make even the most outgoing kid lose their cool. We reached out to military parents to learn their best tips and strategies for back-to-school success after a move. Read on for their best tips!
Have a Trial Run: There’s a reason why everyone from surgeons to athletes rehearse their skills again and again ahead of go time – it works! Before the first day, complete a full trial run of your child’s school morning routine – knowing what to expect will reduce stress on the big day. If you can, start incrementally moving bedtimes and wake-up times closer to the school-year standard. Practice your child’s mode of transport and discuss strategies for what to do if problems arise. For those parents already anticipating the eye-rolls at this extremely embarrassing dress-rehearsal proposition, consider making the day’s ultimate destination somewhere more appealing – shave ice anyone?
Make it a Team Effort: There’s no reason to go it alone when it comes to helping your child acclimate to their new school. For younger children, open and maintain a clear line of communication with their teacher – an email is ideal – explaining your circumstances. While reaching out to older children’s teachers may be impractical, resources like the installation’s School Liaison Officer (find yours here) can assist by not only connecting students and parents with existing support, but also navigating administrative headaches like credit transfers, special education programs, and more – all free of charge! Social media presents another avenue for support – parents of younger children can connect with like-minded families, churches, sports clubs, or other local infrastructure that makes a place feel like home. If things are more than you can handle, Military One Source connects military families with free, confidential counseling with professionals who understand the unique challenges of military life.
Upgrade your Home Away from Home: After a long day of long division and sentence diagramming, nothing beats coming home and relaxing in a comfortable environment. For families living out of temporary lodging while waiting for housing, this is easier said than done! If available, consider alternative lodging arrangements from Military Crashpad, which offers comfortable, well-appointed residences with all the joys of home and then some (maid service and 24//7 maintenance is standard, and many MCP properties boast private pools, game rooms, meal delivery services, and more!) If your area isn’t served by MCP (yet!), consider packing small touches like sheets from home, favorite toys and books, or favorite family photos to personalize your child’s space.
Cultivate Creativity: If your little one is artistically inclined, several military parents we spoke to suggested creative outlets to help children work through their post-PCS stress. For elementary school aged children, encourage kids to create a story about their move in whatever way they like (writing, drawing, acting, singing, painting) in which they are the main character. Narrative storytelling allows children to access and evaluate their surroundings more impartially and clearly. If inclined, older children can benefit from journaling, drawing, reading, playing music, or any other pursuit that they enjoy. Not your kid’s thing? No worries. There’s no need to force it, just make the space and let your child take the lead.
Resist Over Scheduling: While it’s tempting to fill every post-PCS second with novelty and activity to demonstrate your new duty station’s selling points, our military parents advised including plenty of unstructured, unscheduled time – ideally outdoors – after school. The world’s largest ball of yarn and the petting farm will all be there in a few weeks – no need to rush. Head out for a walk, get the bikes and scooters out, break out the sidewalk chalk, and see where the day takes you.
Let Feelings Be: While the above strategies can help facilitate a smooth start to the school year, there’s no way around the truth that a PCS is a difficult transition – it is hard for adults, kids, pets, and everyone in between. Keeping this in mind, our military parent panel provided one final piece of overarching advice: let feelings be. Myriad emotions – excitement, apprehension, anxiety, sadness, anger – are completely normal and healthy during a time of transition. As parents, our experts counseled, the most effective way to help a child process difficult feelings is to validate and accept them. No amount of “look on the bright side” coaching or trips to local amusements can replace the reassurance of a trusted adult acknowledging and accepting a child’s difficult feelings regarding starting at their new school. Not sure where to start? Try this simple statement: “I see how hard this is for you. I am here.”
For more helpful tips, visit our blog at https://militarycrashpad.com/blog/