Helping Military Kids Through PCS Moves
by Lizann Lightfoot - October 2nd, 2021
Military kids move much more often than their civilian peers, averaging a move every 2-3 years. Every PCS move means a new house, new school, new friends, and new routines.
It is a lot for a child to adjust to and accept. Sesame Street for Military families has created a variety of online tools and programs to make this process easier for military families. If you are preparing kids for a PCS move, here are some tools to help your child make the most of the experience.
How can you prepare your child for a PCS move?
When you first get PCS orders, your mind races with questions. You wonder what the new town is like, where you should live, and what location will be best for your family. PCSgrades can give you a head start on finding answers through our trusted reviews written by fellow military families, covering on base housing and off base neighborhoods, as well as schools, moving companies, real estate agents, and more! As you jump-start your research, don’t forget that your kids will have questions too.
Sabrina Huda of Sesame Street for Military Families explains it this way: “Moving is one of the biggest stressors. Kids are feeling the family tension. When we are developing our resources, we focus on making sure families are communicating actively, especially for children who are too young for complex verbal expressions. We help them deal with differences—new friends, acceptance, different sports or clubs. We want to help get the family talking and communicating. Drawing and interactive tools can help get that out.”
What should military kids do before a PCS move?
Young children don’t have a sense of time, so telling them that you might move in six months doesn’t make sense to them. It’s better to wait until you are actively making choices about the move so you can explain what is happening and help them process their feelings. You can use major events like “during the summer” or “after your birthday” to help kids understand when the move will happen.
Before the move, Huda recommends that parents be honest and explain the different steps. The app Big Moving Adventure helps kids talk about moving using the familiar faces of Elmo and Rosita. Children can place the muppets in the app, showing them doing things like packing up their room or going to a new school. It’s important for parents to engage in these activities with their child to get the most out of it.
Huda says, “we want to give the parents the understanding and knowledge to communicate with their little ones. We are really good at showing the child’s perspective so they know what their child is going through and how to see things through their eyes.” The app is free to download through Apple, Google store, or Kindle.
Sesame Street recommends giving kids a sense of closure by saying goodbye to places and people. Parents should discuss ways kids can stay connected, and how they will find similar activities at their new home. The Big Moving Adventure app allows kids to take pictures and make a scrapbook of their old home so they can save their memories, and then challenges them to take similar pictures at their new home. Huda says, “for kids, it has to be tangible and concrete to help them adjust. Trust is so important for these families.”
PCSgrades knows the value of trust and tangible photos when military families are looking for a new home. Seeing pictures of a new base can help make the move more real for military kids, especially if they see photos of playgrounds and pools where they will be able to play at their new house. Our reviews and area guides include photos of military housing and amenities, so you can show your child what it will look like at their new location.
How can we support military kids during and after a PCS move?
During the move: Discuss the logistics of the move in relatable terms your child can understand. Talk to them about things like taking a long car trip, flying on a plane, or getting a new bedroom. Huda says the Sesame Street website resources are especially useful for parents going through their first PCS move. “It helps reduce anxiety. We have a lot of feedback from blended families who may not have been part of that military lifestyle. All the articles are short and easy for anyone to get the key messaging, especially those who don’t have prior military experience.”
After the move: When settling in, it’s important to help your child feel comfortable. You want to get back to regular routines as quickly as possible. Tantrums happen when routines are broken and children can’t express themselves. Huda says, “Keeping those routines for little ones can make such a difference—keep the same pictures on the walls, continue family Taco Tuesday nights, etc. Children are developing and soaking up everything so quickly. We want to support them through transitions. It can be helpful to set up the child’s room first so they can feel settled.”
PCSgrades can help your family adjust quickly to your new area with information about local events, attractions, and things to do. You can find details specific to your new duty station in our area guides. Read them before and after a move to plan out family activities and give children something specific to look forward to in their new home.
Sesame Street tools help military families PCS
Sesame Street for Military Families was founded in 2006, in response to the combat deployments that occurred following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Because this was the nation’s longest deployment period since World War II, Sesame Street wanted to support families with young children and a deployed parent. They have since expanded to include resources for PCS moves, special needs children, and veterans with caregivers. Their free relocation resources can be found on their website.
Huda, who has been with the Sesame Street organization for 10 years says, “Our programming focuses on community outreach and resources to help the neediest children. For parents, we want to reduce feelings of helplessness and anxiety by having a greater understanding of what kids are going through. We can help them communicate big feelings with children.”
The website has links to the Big Moving Adventure app and to relocation articles, printables, and activities. Huda says, “All our resources are free to download and use. Sesame Street’s approach is strength-based and positive. We do some humbling, amazing, tear-jerking work. I love having opportunities to meet with families to discuss how resources have helped them through a PCS move.”
One military family praised the app saying, “It not only gave me ideas of how to approach the big move with my kids but it also gave them a chance to be interactive and see how fun moving can be! Definitely a must have app for a moving family!”