Combating the Challenges Part 2
Picking up where we left off with Kelsey on Tuesday for more goodness on what military kids face and how to help them through! If you missed part one in our series, check it out here!
2. Bigger Responsibilities
As expected, separations can come with shifts in responsibilities, especially if the children are of an age where they have certain responsibilities around the house. Now, I believe that this can be beneficial in kiddos, but it can also increase the stress felt at home. This is especially true for younger children who are just learning to participate in chores and tasks at home. It can help to prepare for such a change in responsibilities while offering support and recognizing not to ask your children to do more than they are developmentally capable.
3. Frequent Moves
Military life means change. And change comes with moving; often. My son just turned 5 and has lived in 4 different states. The obvious is that moving equates to stress. In fact, we just PCS’d OCONUS to CONUS during Christmas! Literally the day of Christmas our house was being packed. It doesn’t help that this is my son’s birthday time too. I don’t think I realized the stress and anxiety this move caused for my son until he asked, “Mom do we have to skip Christmas this year? What about my birthday? My friends won’t get to be here for it.”
He was finally settling into a great school with amazing friends and found his way in the youth hockey program just for the military to be "BAM it’s PCS time." (BTW, we weren’t supposed to be moving until the following year) But that’s the life of the military child. He had to transition; new home, new school, new friends, new everything.
For older children, new schools can make or break them academically. Schools teach differently and at different paces. This can be especially challenging for children who learn differently or have special needs. Coming in at the middle the school year or later can also make it hard for the teacher to know how the child learns best, as they have not had time to totally understand and know the child. All of this can cause anxiety and negative impacts on self-esteem.
Frequent moves also mean new friends. My son cried because he didn’t understand that we couldn’t just go visit his best buddy. It can be trying for a child to constantly put him/herself out there to make new friends. This can leave them feeling lonely or isolated socially.
If you know a move is coming, connect with the new school (if possible) to make them aware of any special needs and even help with the transition into the new school. Again, prepare your child by talking with them and having an open discussion regarding the change. It can also be beneficial to check in with your child often until they become ‘settled’ into their new home and school.
3. Grief and Loss
Although this ties into the previous point, this is one area that also needs special considerations. With moving comes the loss of friends, coaches, teachers, anyone that may have been apart of your child’s daily interactions. My dad (a psychologist) told me it is natural for small children to grow attached even to their environment; which for my son, was his own particular spot at the local hockey rink and our front porch area at our house.
Younger children are developmentally primed to grow attachments for their own comfort and safety. Every morning my son had his routine before school, the routine of me driving to school, and the after school routine which was all gone in a matter of days. (We were given less than 2 weeks of notice for this move!)
Work to provide those same or similar details that the children has grown attached to in your previous community and/or home. Talk about the change in a positive manner and as always, offer support. If we look at our glass as half full with optimism, those same mannerisms will take effect in our children.
Grief and loss can also come with a parent returning home from a deployment with significant emotional and/or physical injury. In this case, you can help your child understand and how to process their grief by encouraging them to share their feelings. Let your child know it is okay to express emotion and normal to feel sad, upset, etc. You can also get support for you child by using resources readily available such as a therapist.
While military children face numerous battles of their own, we as parents can offer support even in the smallest and simplest ways. Our situations may be less than ideal, but that doesn’t make them impossible. Aside from these tips, reach out to your local community. The military offers some great services for our military families, most of which are underutilized. And companies like Deploy Joy Co. also provide creative ways to help our military kiddos through the struggles of separation. There is a community here, ready to help you and your children: one of the positives to being a military family.