Going back to school can be a stressful yet exciting time for both parents and children. Whether you’ve just moved to a new city, or your child is transitioning from elementary school to junior high, each new school year comes with its own joys and challenges. However, some factors are unique to military families, like experiencing a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), and can cause added stress to this period of transition. It’s important for parents, children, and school personnel to be mindful of these potential stressors and understand how to buffer their effects.
Potential stressors for military-connected children:
- According to Cramm et al. (2018), military-connected children experience, on average, 6-9 school changes before they graduate.
- These researchers also found that military-connected children who have relocated may experience difficulties with school engagement, academic performance, forming social connections, participating in extracurriculars, and, when applicable, maintaining special education services (Cramm et al., 2018).
- During a PCS, military-connected children may also experience inconsistencies in curricula between states, which can make adjusting to a new school district even more complicated.
Tips for mitigating transition-related stressors for military families
Although military-connected children are more likely to experience the above stressors, families and schools can also employ strategies to mitigate associated challenges. Mmari et al. (2010) found that social connection is the most important coping skill for both military children and parents during a PCS. Military families demonstrated social connections by spending time on base, identifying with military culture, and building relationships with other military families.
This does not necessarily mean that military families must form new social connections – maintaining friendships can also protect parents and children from the negative effects of PCSing. Researchers found that one way students can build and maintain friendships, as well as build their sense of purpose, is through electronic communication (e.g., texting, email, video game chatting, YouTube) (Landers-Potts et al, 2017). Another study showed that greater relationship provisions (i.e., the social and emotional resources provided by close connections) resulted in lower anxiety/depression, higher levels of well-being, and better academic performance (Mancini et al., 2015).
School environment and family support are also key for mitigating these military-specific stressors. Parents can support their children’s self-efficacy by reassuring them of their self-worth. This, in turn, can contribute to positive mental health, stronger well-being, and better academic performance (Mancini et al., 2015).
Below are a few suggestions for bolstering military-connected children’s academic performance, along with resources for easing the transition to a new school and ways to enhance children’s social connections through extracurricular activities.
- Take advantage of tutors who offer free services for military children.
- Learn about resources such as the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission to address common transition difficulties (e.g., meeting requirements for graduation, differences in school curriculums).
- Connect with a school liaison in your area who understands the common education challenges of military families.
- If you have a child with special needs, consider using the Individualized Education Program to ensure their educational needs are met consistently.
Extracurriculars and social connection
- Search for military-sponsored youth programs in your area so your child can form relationships with other military-connected children.
- Find out if your city participates in Operation Hero, an after-school program designed to help military children cope with the frequent moves and separation of deployment.
- Explore websites like Bloom, a blog for empowering and connecting military teens through videos, art, and stories.
Military families are resilient and have so much to offer their new communities. When things can feel inconsistent or unpredictable, staying connected with friends and family is a great way to find comfort and support. By reminding yourself and your family members of your value and self-worth, you can boost your mental health, enhance your well-being, and feel excited for another great school year!