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Tips for Military Parents Planning PCS Moves with Children

Image of Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children. A child at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni blows bubbles during a recent Month of the Military Child celebration. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabriela Garcia-Herrera)

Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age.

Yet there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Army Maj. (Dr.) Dominique Holley, a child psychiatrist and deputy chief at Fort Campbell's Department of Behavioral Health, shared some important tips for military families to help in the PCS process for kids.

How far in advance should parents start connecting with the community they will be moving to?

"Short answer is as soon as possible," Holley said. Sharing information with children about the new location where they will live can be very helpful in helping kids adjust to the idea of living in a new place.

"It will be important to start looking into the known interests of the kids or family such as local parks, scout troops or local churches for activities," she said.

"Moving can be stressful and there typically are mixed emotions surrounding moving from the whole family."

Nevertheless, she said: "Kids generally adapt well overall, forming connections early on to a new place."

What are some suggestions for finding a new doctor?

"Enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EMFP) ensures that any military family member with chronic medical concerns, physical disabilities, mental health disorders or required intensive follow-up support are stationed where services are available for that family member," she said.

Beneficiaries can search for doctors in a new location on the TRICARE website. Providers in most circumstances reach out to receiving installations to provide warm hand-offs to receiving clinics.

Additional PCS recommendations regarding medical records:

When transferring from installation to installation there is typically no need to transfer medical records as long as there is consistency from one electronic health record (EMR) to the next, Holley explained.

While the MHS GENESIS electronic health record is being implemented at military hospitals and clinics across the Military Health System, that transition is not yet complete. Beneficiaries may have to request their medical records from your hospital or clinic medical record department or patient administration division, if the installation you are transferring from or to is not yet using MHS GENESIS.

"Once MTFs migrate to MHS GENESIS from the Armed Forces Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) EHR, then they will no longer need to transport paper medical records from one MTF to another," Holley stated.

The process of requesting medical records takes about one or two weeks and requires the approval of behavioral health care providers. "This request should be made about a month prior to PCS to ensure time to obtain records when needed," Holley said.

When traveling to the new location, Holley suggested these activities to keep children engaged while en route:

"Ensure easy access to the most commonly used games and activities and toys while traveling," Holley said.

Also, audio books or tablet computers, depending on the age of the child, can be engaging as well.

Should parents try to keep kids involved in the same type of activities at the new location?

"There are no correct activities necessarily to involve kids in. It largely depends on interests or passions of the kids," Holley said. "If they love certain sports or hobbies, then it makes sense to ensure to make efforts to continue those."

She also suggested that the move might also be an opportunity to try new things and introduce kids to new interest that may be unique to the new school or area.

Are there ways to make goodbyes less difficult for the kids?

"Focus on all the positives of a new place," Holley suggested. "Parents should highlight unique features of the new environment with activities that kids would enjoy."

Planning enjoyable activities in the new city or state ahead of the move can help make the move something to look forward to. Another thing to consider is to plan a return visit to see close friends or family. "Leaving certain people is particularly difficult for kids as well as adults," Holley said.

Any tips for helping kids get organized and prepare for the move?

Make sure to keep commonly used games and toys away from movers so that they are easily accessible for kids during the move. The same applies for their favorite items of clothing, shoes, etc.

Help kids pack a personal bag of their most beloved items to give them a sense of responsibility or control over those things.

"Often times, kids don't have a lot of control over what's happening," Holley said. "Giving them options and helping them to feel empowered with small decisions can be helpful."

Additionally, consider assigning specific tasks during the move for children to focus on. For example, they may oversee ensuring the family pet is fed or has supplies stored away for easy access.

For more information about support programs for military children, visit Military Kids Connect.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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