Military kids tend to be as resourceful as their parents, coping and many times embracing the change that is inevitable with the military lifestyle. We often refer to them as the “Silent Heroes.” You may have heard the phase, “Military kids serve too.” The reality is that kids deal with the same stress of military life that their parents face: frequent moves, long deployments, and living far from family. But military kids go through these challenges while also discovering their self-identity and trying to connect with new friends.
One of the biggest concerns for parents after a military PCS is how well their military kids will adjust to their new surroundings. For the kids themselves, there are concerns about finding their place to fit in at this new location. As the new kid on the block, will they be able to find friends? Will this new school and new neighborhood ever feel like home?
#1 Learn about your new location
You can learn a lot about your new home, even before you move. Use Google Earth and maps to check out the base, your new neighborhood, and local landmarks or main roads. See how far it will be to get to your school, a playground, the swimming pool, or a sports complex. The more you research and look at pictures of your new location, the less strange it will feel when you arrive. Did you know we have already done some of the research for you? Go to PCSgrades.com to check out neighborhoods and schools, or to read an Area Guide written for your next base. By reading reviews written by fellow military families, you can learn a lot about your new duty station.
#2 Visit your new school
Sure, the new building may feel strange and confusing at first, but if you can take a tour or walk around with a teacher, they will show you where everything is so you don’t get lost your first day. Many schools have a School Liaison Officer (SLO) or a military counselor who is familiar working with military kids who have just moved to the area. Ask if there are activities for military kids, such a a deployment lunch table, an after school tutoring program, or just a military-friendly counselor to talk with on a bad day.
My daughter is an avid reader so the first thing she wants to check out is the school library. The nerves about moving always settle down after we visit her new school library or the local public library. This is “home” to her.
#3 Go to work
For military teenagers, finding a part-time job or babysitting is one way to become part of the community rather quickly. Ask questions in your new community’s Facebook groups to learn what type of positions are available. Many bases offer Red Cross certification classes for babysitting and lifeguard training. Jobs may become available towards the end of the summer when college students head back to school. If you already had a job at the previous duty station, make sure you get a letter of recommendation from your previous boss to help you ace the next job interview!
#4 Back to church
Did you attend church or participate in youth programs at your last duty station? Then you’ll probably want to continue those activities at your new base. Military kids of all ages can find new friends by joining a church, club or a sports team. Having a common interest can often lead to fast friendships! So go ahead and visit a house of worship after you move. Making those meaningful connections will help it feel like home.
#5 Take a Dip
Take a break from unpacking those boxes and hang out at the local pool. There is probably one on base, or maybe a public pool in town. Either way, it’s a great way to connect with other local kids! A quick conversation at the snack bar can often lead to future get togethers or at the very least, a familiar face at the bus stop come fall.
#6 On Base Amenities
Check out what your local base or post has to offer. Most bases have amenities like swimming pools, a bowling alley, and a movie theater where you can connect with other military kids. Youth Centers and MWR offices offer a wealth of information about activities and clubs for kids. If there is a USO or ASYMCA office on base, stop by to check out their resources and ask if they have any upcoming events that may interest you. If you’re training for a sport, look for group classes at the Fitness Center or track on base. Pro tip: you can see a list of base amenities for your next base in each of our PCSgrades Area Guides.
There are any number of volunteer slots that need to be filled at your local school, church, or shelter. You may have a Fisher House, or USO center nearby that has volunteer opportunities. Many bases or posts have thrift shops that need help. The local animal shelter has plenty of pets that need extra love and attention. Projects like a Park Clean-Up are also a fun way to explore local beaches and trails. Giving of your time is a great way to meet other like-minded people in your community. Plus, you can use those service hours for your school, church, or Scouting activity requirements. Win-win!
#8 Be positive, be a good listener, and be yourself!
We asked other military friends what qualities they are looking for in a new friend. Overwhelmingly, other kids just want someone they can talk to who is fun and sincere. So don’t worry too much about fitting in to your new place. Sure, you may not know the names of the local towns, and some of the food may taste strange to you. But you will find friends when you connect with people who appreciate you for who you are. So keep on being YOU!
What other tips would you add to this list?
Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children.