We’re scared something might happen to our parents.
When’s mom leaving? Is dad going to get hurt in Iraq? Will I get to finish school here? There are a lot of concerns running through their little minds, according to our campers. They said they worry about their parent when he or she is deployed, they feel anxious about moving, and they wonder if parents will miss important events when they are called away to duty. All of this makes for a lot of uncertainty that leads to stress. It’s important to remember that these variables are constant in an active duty family’s life. However, National Guard and Reserve families may have these changes thrust upon them all at once when a service member is deployed. For both groups, the more concerns, the greater the impact on the child.
“Thinking about my mom or dad passing away and dying makes me scared.”
In the 1970s, researchers raised the curtain on these issues. Irritability, depression, and aggression were connected to children associated with military life. Even today, 30% of the respondents had elevated anxiety symptoms in comparison to civilian clinical samples. But anxiety also decreased with the child’s age. More recently, researchers have also looked at how military kids thrive despite the military lifestyle factors. Adults who grew up as military kids say they have mostly positive memories of their experiences. Operation Purple® campers said they see the bright side of their unique lifestyle, too.
So which is it? How can military life be worrisome and at the same time build character? Research on resilience shows that facing adverse situations builds strength in children who are able to successfully adapt. What strategies are working to help kids cope with their concerns? Again, it comes down to parents and strong connections with other caring adults. Here are some ideas to rally your community around the caregiver and kids:
Help children understand that they’re not alone in their journeys—foreign service workers, missionaries, truck drivers, airline pilots, fishermen, and even business consultants all have unique lifestyles that require the family to endure separations, and in some cases, danger.
Educate parents on basic child development so they know what information is age-appropriate for their children and what a normal stress reaction is, and when it’s time to enlist some help. Take stock of your community resources and make sure parents have a list of resources they can contact, if the need occurs.
Encourage military children to practice the “Three Blessings” exercise. Write down three things that went right that day and why. Check back in a week. It helps kids find the joy in their life and identify their character strengths.
Host a club where military kids can feel at home and talk about their unique experiences. Provide information about Operation Purple camps where they can really bond with their military peers. Group associations can help people decrease stress.
“Understanding and Promoting Resiliency” Military Family Research Institute—a valuable overview of some studies of resiliency, what it means and how people become resilient, with specific discussions on how the topic is applied in military families. Visit www.mfri.purdue.edu for more information.