When my daughter began struggling with a season of Permanent Changes of Station (PCS) that resulted in a handful of family and friends leaving our small Army community, I was challenged to consider the world through her eyes. This process led to powerful realizations about the ways in which I had been neglecting her very real feelings and overlooking the emotional toll any PCS season can have on a child — whether or not a moving truck parks outside his or her home.
Eventually, I set forth some guiding principles for myself that would serve as a means to cultivate resiliency and help my daughter prosper in a world that can so easily overwhelm.
Read on and consider how well these principles are already implemented in your own routine and whether changes can be made for the benefit of your entire family.
1.) Be Willing to Listen
Children’s fears are many and varied. However ridiculous or seemingly overblown they may appear, it is crucial to validate them. In doing so, you tell your child that she is important and that you are a safe place for her to open up. She needs to be confident in the knowledge that her concerns are just as important to you as they are to her. Be patient with your time, and give your full attention. In doing so, you establish a healthy communication pattern that will serve you both well, no matter what curve balls life decides to throw.
2.) Be Open and Honest
As a mother, the instinct to protect is strong — it also can be counterproductive. While it may be tempting to help our children navigate the difficulties of military life with empty platitudes — “don’t worry sweetie, you’ll definitely see each other again”— it is ultimately detrimental to the development of healthy coping strategies.
Be realistic about the future. Talk about expected changes ahead of time. Above all, be honest; and remember, our children face adversity from a young age. They can handle it.
3.) Give Them Some Control
Part of what makes PCS season so difficult for our little ones is the lack of control they feel. Friends are often taken from their lives suddenly, and they are powerless to stop it. Helping them cope successfully requires offering a smidgen of that lost control. Provide your child accessibility to the people he or she values, no matter how far apart they are. Create a FaceTime schedule. Help them establish a pen pal routine. Keep them updated via pictures on social media. If your child’s friend has yet to leave and finances allow, consider allowing her to purchase a small goodbye gift. We like to give coloring books and snacks for the long days of traveling ahead. This helps your child grasp the finality of a PCS, while allowing her to actively take part in the goodbye process.
4.) Offer a Creative Outlet
Allowing children to express themselves is important, especially in times of emotional turmoil. Encourage your child to explore the deep feelings a PCS sparks in whatever way is most comfortable. In our house, making a poster board collage was a huge hit! It hangs next to our daughter’s bed, allowing her to see old friends whenever she wants. We used this two piece set from Amazon, which—BONUS!— allows you to create a collage poster for long-distance family, as well. You also can color pictures or write letters. The important thing is providing your child the opportunity to reflect on the loss instead of forcing her to move on.
5.) Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable
Despite my deeply emotional nature, I have a tendency to remain outwardly cold and unmoved in situations of loss. It’s a personal quirk with which I have always struggled and one that has been spotlighted numerous times throughout our military life. As my daughter becomes all-too familiar with that same sense of loss, I realize it is more important than ever to work through that tendency. Our kids need to see us be vulnerable. They need to see us struggle with the loss of friendships. These observations communicate that their own feelings are both normal and OK. Without that example, without allowing our pain to be made visible, they will feel insecure in their own pain. Tears are OK. Sadness is OK. Being an example of this helps them to feel that they will be OK.
Parenting military children is no easy feat. Big life changes almost always equal big feelings — as they should. But navigating those sometimes murky waters needn’t be overwhelming. Our children are capable of thriving, given we dedicate ourselves to mindfulness and patience. After all, resiliency is not simply bestowed upon our children for having endured. It is fostered in them for having successfully coped. You are their teacher. You are their example. Make your lessons powerful and memorable.
***Be sure to check out “Helping Kids Prosper Through PCS Season: Part 1.”***