The ABCs of PCS with Kids

Military Kids PCS Guide

Moving is never easy, especially when you’re a kid in a military family. Packing up your life and saying goodbye to friends is just the beginning of the adventure known as PCS.

For military kids, each move brings a mix of excitement, uncertainty, and the challenge of starting anew, whether it’s stateside or OCONUS.

Getting your kids ready for your PCS

Having worked with the military community for over 60 years, we’ve learned a thing or two about how challenging a PCS move is. We know it can be a breeze for some children and quite difficult for others.

We spoke to Kailyn Rhinehart, Air Force Spouse and mother of two; we asked her to help build out a list of the basics—from A-Z as a guide for parents and their kids.

A – Ask for help. PCSing is hard, but PCSing with kids can feel extra complicated. Ask for help from relatives, friends, or support systems. This allows time to prepare and for kids to have fun instead of being caught up in the shuffle.

B – Use books about moving and change to help children adapt to transitions. Reading books about feelings and friendships can help small children process big emotions.

C – Help your child connect with others who have moved recently. Seek out other families with kids so that they can have a friend who understands what they’re feeling.

D – Military kids are full of determination and resilience to carve their paths and embrace new circumstances. This is one of the most powerful character traits of a military child and is seen a lot during a PCS.

E – Entertainment like new toys, extra screen time, books, and art supplies are all essential during the PCS process. However, you might be surprised by how long markers and empty cardboard boxes entertain your child!

F – Find activities for your child to do once you arrive at your new duty station. Whether it’s an activity they’ve done for years or a completely new one. It’s easier to adjust when kids have something to look forward to!

G – Goodbyes are hard, especially for young children. But one of the best things about being a military family is you never know where you will visit or be stationed in the future. Many times, families cross paths again somehow. Remind your child that goodbyes can also be “see you later.”

H – Be hopeful! There’s a big possibility your kids will surprise you. Try not to set them up for failure by thinking they can’t handle the move. There will be hard days, sure. But with some preparedness and hope, PCSing with kids can turn out even better than you thought.

I – Include your child in the packing and planning process. Include them in the conversation (age-appropriate, of course!) Kids just want to be involved during major transitions. Treat them as part of the team whenever possible.

J – Give your child a job or task where they can have some responsibility. Depending on their age, children can help during a PCS‌. Find what works for your family to make sure your child feels included in the transition.

K – Know the right timing. Some may tell their children of an impending move sooner rather than later. Some children want more time to ask questions and process changes. Others, especially young children, get overwhelmed knowing a move is coming. You know your child best. Be intentional with what and when you tell them. Be sure you and your spouse are both on the same page.

L – Listen to your children. Allow them to ask questions. Depending on their age, they may just need someone to listen to hear how hard this transition is. That’s okay.

M – Share old memories and the excitement of new ones. Reminisce about all the wonderful experiences you’ve had and talk about the new ones you will make at your next duty station.

N – With moving comes new adventures. Speak positively about the new opportunities and adventures around your children.

O – Feeling overwhelmed is normal. Depending on your child’s age, they may experience several bouts of feeling overwhelmed. They may not fully understand what’s happening. Encourage them to talk about what they’re experiencing.

P – Stay patient. PCSing is incredibly hard as an adult. There are so many things to do and schedule. But we can understand how most things work. Children often cannot. Be patient. Answer their questions. And try not to let your stress impact them.

Q – Everyone needs quiet time. Whether you have a baby, a young child, or an older child, everyone can benefit from some quiet time in the chaos of a PCS. Be sure to include some quiet or rest time in the pockets of your days, especially as things get busy before a move.

R – Keep routines, as much as possible, that is. Children thrive in routines. And while PCSing is the opposite of consistency, hold on to their routine when you can. Allow your child some sense of predictability while everything is changing.

S – Set their stuff up first. A child’s room is their safe space. Prioritize their things and bedroom at your new location. This will give them a sense of familiarity, despite a new location.

T – Try to stay positive. Leaving friends and a familiar home is difficult for kids. But hearing adults talk negatively about a past duty station or a future one makes things more overwhelming. While no one can be happy all the time, make sure you’re talking positively about PCSing around your children. This will affect their experience immensely.

U – Be sure to have boxes you will unpack first. that include their special things–the things that mean home.

V – Focus on family values. Most military families are used to changes. It’s important to discuss your family values around these transitions. What will you focus on first after a move? What will you hold on to when the days are extra hard? Talk about these values with your children.

W – Watch out for withdrawing. It’s normal for kids to deal with the big emotions of PCSing in various ways. It’s also common for them to withdraw in some ways. Even adults can experience this during a PCS. Be sure to notice if your child is withdrawing more than normal.

X – Make a plan to experience something new in your new home. Research zoos, museums, events, or local attractions. Get your child excited about the new things they will get to experience once you PCS.

Y – Embrace the yay! Embrace challenges. Still no furniture? Have a picnic on the floor! No TV? Crank up a dance party playlist on your phone! PCSing is hard, especially with kids. Don’t forget to find and embrace the “yays.”

Z – On the day of packing, have a “kid zone.” Make sure kids feel comfortable even if the house is chaotic. Block off a room or spot where the kids can stay. You can also arrange a playdate, so the kids don’t have to stress about being home while the movers are there.

Kids getting ready to PCS with military parents

Embrace the Adventure

Navigating a PCS journey as a military kid is a unique experience filled with ups and downs. From the excitement of new beginnings to the sadness of farewells, each move shapes us in unexpected ways, building resilience and strength that lasts a lifetime. So, as the next adventure awaits, remember to embrace the journey, wherever it may lead.

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