When a loved one serves in the military, every family member is impacted, especially children.
Growing up in a military family requires children to adjust to constant change, frequent moves, and disruptions to their relationships. Moving is less about a new location and more about making new friends.
As a former military kid and now raising our military children, I am quite aware of how a military parent impacts the entire family. Our children have spent their whole lives living in communities outside of a military base. Unfortunately, our decision means placing our children in schools and communities not always familiar with how to help military children adapt.
My responsibility as a military spouse and parent has been to help educate our church family, teachers, and community on strategies to support our children.
- There are almost 1.4 million children in the U.S. between the ages of 4 and 18 with a parent serving in the military.
- More than 80% of these children attend U.S. public schools.
- More than 2 million children have a mother or father who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, often multiple times.
- Students with a parent on active duty move three times more frequently than children of civilian families.
Source: Military Child Education Coalition
So how can you help? These five simple ways help provide a supportive environment for our military kids in your classroom, churches, or community.
Ask the right questions
As an educator, church body, or community member, it’s okay if you don’t understand military life. You don’t have to walk in the shoes of our military kids to show them the compassion, offer understanding or create a supportive environment. As civilians (nonmilitary personnel), you can make a difference in the lives of military children and family by how you respond.
- Talk to parents or community military liaisons for additional help to understand military terminology the child may frequently use
- Ask the parent and child how you can help.
- Include the parent as much as possible when helping the child adjust to a new school, extra-curricular group, or community activity.
Provide ways they can get involved
Extra-curricular activities are an excellent way for military children to find where they fit in new environments. From sports to bible study groups, military children will thrive when they can connect with activities that are meaningful and fun. Military parents new to the area will not be familiar with the local sports, deadlines or even ways to get their kids involved. Provide as much information as possible as soon as possible.
- Make suggestions on activities based upon the child’s interest
- Offer suggestions that provide transportation or even some sort of discount for military families
Showing up consistently is a big deal in the lives of military children. After moving to a new town or while one parent is deployed, children can often feel they are no longer important or relevant to their family, school, or community. Taking time to make the phone call, send the letters, visit, or do weekly Facetime chats have a tremendous impact on providing a stable, supportive environment for military children, especially when they have moved to an area where they are new.
- Plan how you will keep in contact with the military child. How often? What form of communication? The goal is consistency.
Help them embrace their emotions
Some days are hard for military kids. They often feel big emotions but struggle with how to communicate them or process them. It’s not surprising when these kids end up acting out or completely shutting down. As teachers, church members, or community, you can help these children with embracing their emotions. Help provide them with healthy ways to respond to their feelings.
- Allow military children to ask the hard questions and answer them as transparent and straightforward as possible.
- Talk to the military child in a way he/she will understand. Use age-appropriate language and examples.
Take things slow
If you want to provide a supportive environment for military kids, don’t try to push them into too many new things at once. A new move or a parent recently leaving for deployment along with a new school is stressful and a lot to process. Don’t be surprised when military kids fight to maintain any sort of normalcy. It might be eating their favorite meal five days a week or wanting to wear their favorite shirt almost every day. As a family member or a part of the community for the military kid, create space for the military kid to adapt to their new environment. If the favorite activity for the military kid was playing basketball at the local court, help him find a safe basketball court or invite him to play basketball.
- Discuss possible changes to household routine and concerns
- Allow space and over time introduce more to the student
Military children are a quite resilient. When teachers, churches, and community members partner with parents military children win. They are able thrive in an environment where they are seen, valued, and belong. Thank you for helping!
one grateful mom of military kids,