Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “ From the Homefront ,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network .
Written by Shelley Kimball
If there is one constant in a military child’s life, it is change. And life changes are often most dramatic during moves.
The average military kid will move six to nine times during their schooling, meaning upheaval becomes the norm.
In honor of April being the Month of the Military Child, we will be highlighting issues pertaining to kids and their parents. This week, we are sharing some creative ways to get kids ready for moves.
When the kids get old enough to understand that they are leaving, parents have to find ways to assuage their heartbreak. For Rachel Perez, her family’s move in a few months is one of the first ones in which her kids are aware of the coming change. The Perez kids are 8, 6 ½, and 3. The oldest two understand that they are leaving.
“I have been open and honest with them but started really talking about more in the last year,” Perez said. “At first they were angry and sad.”
To help them adjust, they have been able to show them their new home, they have lined up pen pals, and they are ready to Skype with friends.
They will be moving to a location with a higher ratio of military families, so they have been talking up the opportunity to meet other military kids.
“We will also be moving onto an Air Force Base and the girls are excited to meet children just like them,” Perez said. “Currently there is no military presence where we live and people do not understood why we would voluntarily move every four years.”
Perez said she knows her kids will benefit from moving to new places and meeting new people. She also said that her family remains positive about moving, but it is still hard on them.
“My heart hurts a little because they love their school, friends and routine,” Perez said. “Being honest and open about it has helped the most. Also validating and really listening to their concerns does wonders.”
Surviving the drive
The long drive from one home to the next can be a frustrating part of a PCS. Sharla Wilkins, a Coast Guard spouse, has moved three times with kids, and she has a plan for helping everyone survive the drive. She recommends:
- Prepare a large snack bag just for the kids that can sit within their reach. Include a trash bag, paper towels, wipes, and water bottles.
- Have a portable DVD player if your vehicle is not equipped with one, and rent movies for the kids from Redbox. You can return watched movies and rent new ones during the drive. Have the kids use headphones with their DVDs so you have some peace and quiet.
- Surprise children who have portable gaming systems with a new-to-them-game once they announce they are bored during the trip.
- Let children select new books that are specifically for the road trip.
- Schedule stops every few hours, and let the kids get out and safely run around and stretch.
Planning ahead can help fill the empty days from moving to a new location and starting school.
Morgan Knauss, a Coast Guard spouse who moved last summer with three small children, said she looks ahead at summer activities for their kids, not only to entertain them, but to join in the community.
“We will look up things to do in the area and find some type of camp that interests them to let them attend and hopefully meet some new friends to have familiar faces when school begins,” she said.
Allison Husted, a Coast Guard spouse who has moved five times with kids, registers her two children to participate in sports teams before they arrive in their new town. That way they are on the roster early enough to participate. The sports practices are usually well before school starts, so it helps the kids settle in ahead of time.
“This gives the kids something to positive to attribute to the move. It provides them with an instant schedule, a chance to make acquaintances, a sense of belonging and value, not to mention great exercise,” she said. “Another perk is that when they walk into class on the first day of school, they see familiar faces.”
Special Needs Families
Families in the Special Needs Program have an additional layer of obstacles when preparing their kids for a move.
Last week, families with children on the autism spectrum explained some ways they prepare to move, like trying to connect with families in the new city who can help give insight on the services available or the schools in the new area. Families recommended a Facebook page specifically for USCG Special Needs Families and the Military Special Needs Network.
Mandy Farmer, a military spouse who recently published a book with her oldest son about siblings in special needs families called What About Me, has two neurotypical kids and one child on the autism spectrum. Farmer recommends connecting with other families through the American Military Families for Autism Support to track down information ahead of the move.
“What’s been great for us with that is that is has enabled us to find the local groups that everyone is using,” she said. “You are able to get added to those groups even before moving there.”
She explains the move to her neurotypical kids and tells them about the location, the timeline for the move, describes their new school. For her child on the autism spectrum, Farmer starts explaining the move through social stories a month ahead.
Social stories are used to describe social situations or experiences. Farmer makes laminated booklets with photos and descriptions of the move. For example, it might include pictures of the new house, new bedrooms, the new school, or an explanation that toys will go into moving boxes, and they will be unpacked at the new house. Farmer said she gets photos for the stories from people living in the city or the residents who are moving out of the home they will be living in.
She also gives her son a more specific explanation of what will happen each day.
“We try to give him a more distinctive timeline for the move itself , like how many days in hotels,” she said. “We try to give him something exciting in each day.”
And the goodbyes are hard for all three kids, she said, but especially for her middle son who has to leave therapists he has worked with for thousands of hours.
“It kind of becomes a second family member,” she said, so they reassure her son that he can remain in touch even after he moves.
Moving with teens
The goodbyes don’t get easier, even for older kids. Marci Williams, a Coast Guard spouse of 19 years said she has moved so many times that they have developed a few ways to ease the disruption of a move.
“For our freshman and sophomore, the novelty of moving tends to wear off,” Williams said. “My husband, John, and I just need to give our teens time to be sad about leaving their old life behind. We still continue to pump them up for the upcoming move.”
The family is moving this summer back to a location in which they lived previously. So the kids, Luke, 16, and Hannah, 14 1/2, have friends waiting for them.
“Nonetheless, it is still difficult,” Williams said.
They show them pictures of their new house, they let the kids choose what color to paint their rooms, they talk about the new school they will attend, and they set up tours to see the school before the year begins.
“There are so many new opportunities with every move. My husband and I speak to our children about all the wonderful opportunities they will have, like culture, museums, concerts, restaurants, shopping, art, music, soccer,” Williams said. “Any way you slice it, it’s hard! Many of our fantastic military children will absolutely rise to the occasion and mature leaps and bounds, due to all of the changes.”
How do you help your kids adjust to a move? Share your ideas below!
- It’s your move: A document for all branches of service provides information on allowances and responsibilities in connection with the shipment and storage of household goods.
- Moving tips from the Coast Guard: Essential information for a Coast Guard move.
- Moving with kids with special needs: This online publication from the Military Special Needs Network has a section on moving.
- Stories like this: We love to focus on Coastie kids, and some fun stories about them have been what our kids love about Coast Guard life, and what they think aviators do all day. Our families with children in the Special Needs Program have generously shared their experiences and resources with us. We recently ran a story about children on the autism spectrum, and previously we explained how to navigate the Special Needs Program. And when it comes to moving, you might find some great information about how to manage orders you don’t really want, or avoiding HHG overages.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.