For military-connected children, the first day at a new school is more than just being the new kid; it can be like starting over – again. And as many times as our little warriors move across the globe, being the new kid never gets easier. Going back-to-school at a new school after a recent PCS usually means new routines, new friends, new curriculum, and more. It’s a bit daunting for our youngsters, but we’ve asked a professional counselor and few seasoned parents to give us some insight, best advice, and valuable school transition tips for all ages to start the new school year off right!
We asked an expert: Meet Lisa
Lisa Remey, a licensed counselor, military spouse and mom of two, says getting involved early is crucial after a PCS.
“One of the toughest adjustments for our military kids to make is finding a new normal, which includes finding their way not just academically, but also socially by connecting through friends and activities. As military families, we know our time in any given location is limited and there is no time like the present to plug in and get involved. We also know firsthand that change is hard and that keys to a smooth transition include accepting your child’s sense of loss while at the same time providing support, encouragement and resources,“ explains Remey.
Remey also recommends monitoring your child for prolonged or unusual behavioral changes. These can be a sign that your little warrior may need additional help with transition.
“Feelings of stress and loss are a normal part of any change, move, or transition. However, a change over an extended period of time is an indicator of higher stress and a red flag. Symptoms my include a change in your child’s interests, activity level, sleep pattern, eating, grades or an increase in physical complaints. If you notice some of these concerns extra support would be helpful such as talking to the school counselor or Military Family Life Consultant (MFLC),” suggests Remey.
Military kid-tested, parent-approved tips: Meet the parents
We’ve asked a few seasoned parents to give us their best advice to ensure a positive back-to-schooltransition for all ages and stages. Below are kid-tested, parent-approved tips and tricks to start the school year off right.
Let them ride the bus the first day of school, then hop in you car and drive to school, get out and take pictures. It is the best advice a kindergarten teacher gave me years ago. Let them start the first day with their routine. – Jennifer Hickman
We let our son pick his outfit so that he is excited and feels confident about meeting new people. Then we set everything out the night before: clothes, socks, shoes, backpack filled with all of the requested school supplies, and everything we grownups need. That way we have more time to make a fun breakfast and take pictures without racing around and feeling rushed. It might be one of only five days out of the school year that we are so on the ball, and it helps us start off on the right foot. – Diane Potter
One thing I did to help my daughter (and me) when she started kindergarten last year was purchasing mommy/daughter matching bracelets. We read books about going to school and talked about it a lot, and of course the subject of missing each other during the day came up. The bracelet helped because if she missed me while at school she could look at her wrist and be comforted by it. I had them made by another military spouse and they had a dog charm and things that we both liked or things that reminded us of each other on them. – Genni Day
Try on the outfits before the first day of school. First day of school outfits are a cute thing when your girls are in elementary school. First day of school outfits are traumatizing monsters on the first day of middle school. A’s first day of 6th grade was fraught with stress about what she was going to wear. Several of my friends had the same experience, including last-minute outfit changing and tears… ABOUT THE OUTFIT? We were a little stunned and not really expecting it to be such a big deal. Hormones? Puberty? – Jennifer Daly
Managing back-to-school can be tricky and expensive as a mother of five. I start the new bedtime routine two weeks before school starts. I let each boy pick out a new backpack, something they really love, so they each feel special. Most importantly, I tell them to keep their eye out for the new kid at school. They know they’ve all been there, so make someone’s day and include them at lunch or at recess. – Sharon Smith
We also try to make going back to school happy, not sad. The kids and I make a day of school supply shopping and lunch out. They pick where to eat and thank goodness no one chooses Chuck E. Cheese anymore! I also bake a cake to have for dessert – going back to school should be celebrated! Our latest assignment has landed us in a place with fantastic schools! Not all military families can say that and this hasn’t always been our situation. – Megan Monahan Garrison
As a mom of a freshman in high school and a 5th grader, I have my girls reading during the summer. This week I asked both of them to write about what they think this school year will be like. What are their goals? What class do they think is going to be hard and/or easy and why? This way they also practice their writing. Another thing we will be doing is checking the school’s website for information such as new classes or after school clubs. They both love get involved in the school since doing so enables them to make more friends. – Elizabeth Maldonado
One of my kids had a bad year. We lived outside New Orleans and Katrina happened after the first week of school. It was very chaotic. Kids were moving in and out as people tried to get housing, etc. A lot of kids were having behavior problems. My kid was very sick. It was just a general mess and I had one sensitive kid who took everything to heart. I spoke to the school counselor about it and she told me that having one “bad year” has no long-term consequences. Two “bad years” in a row does. So we made sure that she had more stable classroom the next year. – Jennifer Daly
My number one piece of advice for middle school parents is to let kids make mistakes and even fail if necessary. Do not bring forgotten items (homework, band instrument, gym shoes, etc.)to school. Let them experience consequences. That is the only way they will learn to be responsible. You would not believe the steady stream of parents who show up at the school office day after day to bring forgotten articles to their darlings. It is highly disruptive to teachers, to students, and to the office staff who spend a great amount of time tracking kids down, preventing them from getting their actual work done. It took two times for my daughter to forget her clarinet at home before she learned that lesson. Did it affect her grade? Yes. Is she still going to graduate from high school? Yes. But did she learn a lesson? Most importantly, yes. We want our kids to become independent beings who are productive members of society. We disable our kids when we hover over them and try to shield them from any negative experiences. Middle school is the perfect time to let kids have some freedom. – Jennifer Hickman
I bake a Blackboard Cake (a sheet cake with chocolate icing – the “blackboard” and white icing writing) on the first day of school. I write different words and phrases (“Class of 2015,” “track star,” a nickname, etc.). The kids were always excited to see what messages pertained to them. And it was nice to have the extra snack. – Jennifer Daly
I create a “command center” for all backpacks, homework, family notes, brag boards and activities before school starts. Managing chaos from the beginning is essential for a great start in our home. – Danielle Burleson
Maintain daily routines and expectations. Keeping your same family routines and expectations brings comfort and stability to children of all ages. This may be as simple as your morning routine, homework routine, and dinner times. Family structure and routine is comforting in daily life and something that can be kept wherever you are (even during the hotel/TLF days). – Lisa Remey
From a homeschooling perspective, slowly introduce them ahead of time to the books and curriculum they will be using so they become familiar. Make sure supplies are ready (pencils sharpened, binders organized, schedule/planner ready) so the first day goes smoothly. Let them help do any extra classroom prep according to age. Let them set up and organize their desks with a couple of special items. We had our first day yesterday. I am homeschooling a 5th-grader, 2nd-grader and 4th-grader this year. – Cassie Schwartz
When they got their first lockers in middle school, I had a locker pocket-making party. I still have some of the locker pockets on my old fridge in the garage. Basically it is the cut out back pocket of jeans with magnetic tape on the back. Once it is decorated, it is a cute thing to hang on the locker door. The girls were always excited to get a locker and decorate it. – Jennifer Daly
I buy school supplies and school clothes slowly over the summer. Not only does it get my kids excited but its less “painful” on my wallet. – Megan Randall
Have your children invest in the entire back-to-school process! Include them in school supply shopping, picking out snacks and getting them routine-ready. Doing this encourages children to be engaged in the process and they can take on responsibility. – Sarah Darden
What would you add to the list?
Lisa Remey is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist. Her professional experiences range from school counselor to private practice to creating a FEMA program for disaster counseling in schools to social worker. Lisa’s primary role for the past 20 years has been a military spouse, helping her family cope with seven deployments and many moves as well as supporting military families through volunteer work. Lisa has had the privilege to speak on topics regarding military families on the radio as well as at professional conferences in the U.S. and Europe. Additionally, she is a contributing author and publisher of Bronze Medal-winner Lion’s Pride: A Tail of Deployment and Lion’s Pride on the Move.
*A previous version of this article appeared in Military Spouse Magazine.