Posted by Stacie Fredriksson & Jennifer Baublitz
A parent's military service affects the whole family, including the kids, from the youngest baby to the high school senior and beyond. Sometimes the impact is positive. For an active duty family moving to a new place, the move might bring new friends, interesting places to visit or live, new adventures, and new cultures. Children can take pride in their ability to adapt to new situations and learn valuable skills for reaching out and connecting with others.
However, many times, those same opportunities also pose challenges. Leaving what feels comfortable for something you don't know can be scary, especially for younger kids. Changing schools can be a significant challenge as well, especially for older kids moving between states where educational requirements may be different. For military families who don't relocate frequently, facing repeated short-term separations (due to monthly drills and annual tours) or longer-term deployments can be trying. Kids miss their parent(s) at their sports games or school events, which can be a common occurrence due to the requirements of military life.
In these situations, it is important to encourage open communication within the family and acknowledge the sacrifices each family member makes. Below are some practical tips for encouraging resilience within your military child.
Schedule time to be together as a family each day
We all know life can be hectic, and with sports, dance, clubs, work, camps, etc., it can feel downright crazy. Unstructured family time, like playing catch in the yard, having a conversation over dinner, or watching a favorite TV show, is so important in allowing families to connect and manage stress.
Incorporate down time
Children are inundated day to day with over-stimulation from multiple sources including access to media, structured activities, and academic demands. This can lead to overwhelming stress and anxiety. To manage all of this and regulate emotions in the process, one must be able to hit the "pause button" and try to be present in the moment. Some ways we can help our children hit pause include encouraging them to turn off electronics, spend time in nature, try meditation, and engage in gentle exercise like walking or yoga.
Let them be bored
Too often we find ourselves taking responsibility not only for our children's basic needs, love, and care, but for their entertainment as well. Rather than responding to each cry of "I'm bored, there's nothing to do!" with a trip to the bowling alley or a play date, try letting your child simply figure it out independently. Children need space to explore their environment and develop essential problem-solving skills. "Obstacles" such as boredom present the perfect opportunity for doing just that. This is a task best accomplished when they are made to get creative, so be prepared to let them make a bit of a mess and take risks!
Provide opportunities for contribution in the home and community
Following a chore chart, participating in community clean-up day, volunteering at the local food pantry, and other opportunities for taking on responsibility fosters a sense of competency, independence, and belonging in our children. The more children believe they are capable of impacting their environment in a positive way, the more likely they are to be optimistic about the future.
Talking to younger children about some of the challenges that come with a military lifestyle can be difficult. Both Sesame Workshop and ZERO TO THREE have some fantastic resources that help parents start conversations with their kids about moving and deployment, among many other situations. Military Child Education Coalition and National Military Family Association also provide information and tools for supporting military connected children.