By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health and Wellness Contributor
It’s that time of year – the one children lament and parents rejoice. Yes; the time has come to start preparing your kiddos to go back to school. This can be particularly harrowing for military families, especially if a permanent change of station (PCS) was involved over the summer. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of strategies that can help make the transition easier, let me share one of my favorite school stories. Humor always helps to break the ice!
I walk into the classroom and am invited by my son Eric’s 30-something teacher to have a seat. Eric started first grade at this elementary school near Travis Air Force Base two months earlier. His teacher smiled at me and discussed Eric’s progress. Toward the end of the conversation, though, her demeanor changed. What had my son done?
I’ll never forget the conversation.
“Mrs. Van Holbeck, Eric seems to be a nice boy. Several of us, though, have concerns about him and his problem with inappropriate touching.”
Now I look concerned. I ask pointedly, “What is he doing that has the teachers so upset?”
“Well, Eric likes to hug people. He regularly comes up to the teachers in the hallway and gives them hugs. However, when he does, his hands usually end up touching the teachers’ buttocks.“
My first reaction was to laugh out loud! Think about it, all 3 1/2 feet of him hugging the teacher, and where would his hands be? I remained stoic, though, like a good mommy and told the teacher I would address this with him.
I went home and gently talked with my son, and showed him how to hug his teachers by putting his arms around their waists. I wasn’t quite sure why the teachers hadn’t gently told him the same thing. There were no more reports that year of inappropriate touching, but Eric had been labeled by the staff as a “butt-hugger.” Silly, isn’t it?
This was a tough time for our family. My husband was the top Chief in 15th Air Force and traveled a lot. It was our 3rd move in a little over three years, and our kids had been to three different schools in three different states. I know some of you are probably in the same position.
What can you do to relieve some of the anxiety of getting back to school?
– Remember, your tone sets the lead. Yes, this is one of those times that adulting has to take precedence. According to familiesonthehomefront.com, “Research has shown that the more positive attitude parents have about relocating, the more positive the children will be. Children tend to learn by example, so put on a good front if you can.”
If you need help, pick up the phone and call a friend who understands how challenging this life can be.” You can also reach out to your installation’s MSAN Advocate for support.
– Finances can be challenging, especially right after a move. Children are often influenced by the media or their peers and may have certain expectations about clothes and supplies. They also do not understand the financial burden going back to school can place on a family. Do the best you can with what you have on hand and consider some of these strategies:
- Right now is time to shop for that new back-to-school outfit. Many stores have warm weather attire on clearance and are running specials on school supplies. Check your school’s website for a current school supply list. Also, many stores like Walmart and Target will have local school lists in-store.
- Have you ever heard of Sargelist? (http://sargeslist.com/) I hadn’t until I started writing this blog. It’s a military version of Craigslist, created by military members for military members. Check them out for supplies or clothing.
- Operation Homefront sponsors the Back To School Brigade which provides school supplies to military kids. Events start this week. To locate one in your area, go to http://www.operationhomefront.net/event/list.
– Prepare an education binder for each of your children. There is nothing more frustrating for a parent than having to make sure schools are talking with each other. Having this information consolidated and on-hand will help your child transition easily. Information should include:
- Report cards
- Schoolwork samples
- Assessment results
- Teacher comments
- Conference notes
- Individual Education Plan
- 504 plan
- Shot records
- Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
- Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable
- Test results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, reading readiness, SAT)
You can download a free template for an Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder here.
– Visit your new school(s) before the year starts if possible. If you can’t go in to the school, walk around it and use the opportunity to talk with your child about how he or she is feeling about starting in a new school.
If the new school cannot accommodate this request, visit its website and view it with your kids. Even pictures of the lunch room and playground will make it seem more familiar on the first day.
School websites usually contain a list with the e-mails of all staff and teachers. If you know the name of your student’s teacher, considering sending an e-mail to him or her introducing your child before school starts.
– What if your child is having a hard time adjusting to a new school? Don’t be afraid to seek counseling for your child if he or she is having a difficult time adjusting. Reach out to Military One Source to find help. Child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors are available to speak with a child who may need help adjusting to a new environment or handling grief, fear, loss or separation issues. These counselors understand the issues military children face. With your permission, they can help your child address these issues in a healthy way.
- Check out the mental health resources available to military families through Military One Source on MSAN’s website. Look under the Resources Tab: https://www.milspouseadvocacynetwork.org
- Chat live with a Military OneSource triage consultant under the “Confidential Help” tool bar on their website.
Do you have any special tips for our readers about starting back to school after a PCS? Share them with us here or on the Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s Facebook page. Help us keep military families strong! #StrongSpousesStrongerFamilies
For mental health and wellness resources, visit the Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s (MSAN’s) website at https://www.milspouseadvocacynetwork.org.
Find additional resources for this blog at:
5 Back to School Resources for Military Kids