Do you think this is a thing? So often when I talk to young military parents, they worry that their child’s latest behavior is a “thing” related to their military lives.
Is Aiden waking up in the middle of the night because he knows Mommy is deploying? Is Isabella biting her brother because we are getting ready for a PCS move? Will Jack still be in diapers when he is 45 because he is “waiting for Daddy to come home?”
When it comes to kids and military life, it is hard to tell when something is a developmental “thing” or something is a military-related “thing.”
The real thing is that you are the expert on your own child. Your gut is probably telling you when a thing is a “thing.”
So I was glad to hear some experts from the Real Warriors Campaign came together at a DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable to discuss how parents can deal with these military transition points with their kids. Here are some of their tips:
1. Rethink “military” as “transition.”When the world thinks about military kids, they think of crying toddlers clinging to a soldier. They think of preschoolers waving goodbye to a ship. They think of infants presented to Marines at homecoming. They think deployment.
“Military children experience all kinds of transitions in their lives,” noted Capt. Wanda Finch of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Kids experience deployments, PCS moves, TDYs, new caregivers, visits from extended family, new schools, new babies in the house. Finch said that parents can help by communicating to the child that their concerns are important no matter what is happening.
2. Maintain family routine. No matter what unpredictable training cycle the service member is experiencing, the best thing we do for kids is to keep them on a regular, reliable, constant routine. Mealtimes, playtimes, naptimes, bedtimes all keep kids on a more even keel.
3. Make yourself available. All transitions add a certain level of additional work for parents--which can mean you have less time for your kids. But in order to communicate effectively with children, you have to make yourself available. During transitional times, add a little note to the top of your to do list to do a little less so you can be a little more available.
4. Talk on age appropriate level. “We know that what a two-year-old can handle is different than what a six-year-old can handle,” said Lynn Chwatsky, Vice President of Initiatives and Partnerships, Community Engagement from Sesame Workshop. Answer the question your child asks and don’t embellish. Kids will ask for more if they need to know more.
5. All about the love. You already love your child, so this might seem too easy, but it is so important. “Reassure the child they are loved and supported and that there will always being a caring adult in their lives,” said Chwatsky. Remind your child that they are surrounded by adults who love them and care about them no matter what.
6. Their actions didn’t create this situation. Children have many great attributes, but logic isn’t one of them. Chwatsky pointed out that kids often jump to the conclusion that something they did caused their parent to deploy or made something bad happen. Assure your child that this isn’t the case.
7. Breathe. Think. Do. Sesame Street teaches kids to solve problems with a technique called Breath. Think. Do. The kids learn to take deep breaths, think up some solutions then try them out. This works great for parents, too. You can download the app for the program for kids here—a great family technique to start using now.
8. Keep the grown up stuff with the grown ups. We live in a much less formal society than our parents did. We talk about everything in front of kids. But some topics in military life are simply not appropriate for kids. —for kids and adults. Chwatsky says that you can tell your child that these are grown up problems. They are not problems for kids.
9. Don’t be afraid to cry. Even when you are doing a great job as a parent, sometimes things happen in the military that push you a little over the edge.
“Shedding a tear sometimes can speak volumes to children in importance of the issue,” said Finch. “A tear shows compassion, concern, even love.”
10. There is always hope. As parents, one of the most important things we do for kids is to encourage a positive outlook in stressful situations. We can say things like: Our family can do this. We can work together. Let’s all help each other. Hope is one of the most precious resources for families. Cultivate it.
For more information about military kids and transition, check out thetools and resources for helping military families and children cope with all stages of the deployment cycle from the Real Warriors Campaign and from Sesame Workshop.