The Military Child
This book is a guide for parents and children dealing with deployment. The book is meant to be read aloud with the child and encourage talks about feelings and deployment in general. The beginning also has a guide to help parents understand what their child is going through and when they should seek professional help.
This book is meant for people who are caring for children dealing with separation and loss. This book provides strategies to help elementary aged children move forward and continue to have a full life despite the loss or separation.
A story book that helps children feel connected to the family member that is deployed by telling a story about an invisible string that connects families to eachother.
The military lifestyle has always weighed on my mind, especially now that I have two little boys that are forced to live this life with me while my husband is enlisted. Many times, I have researched the outcomes for military children and many times came to the same conclusion: limited studies have been performed on the actual effects of the military life style on military children and even fewer on the long term effects of this life style on adults that grew up as military children. The few studies I have been able to find say the same thing: the military child experiences more stress than the average child during predeployment, deployment and reintegration periods due to the stress the family is under. The military child also has either more or less stress than the average child would when an injury or death occurs. The military child often shows heightened levels of stress when they hear a soldier has been killed until it becomes clear that the soldier was not some one related to them. No studies have shown a negative outcome on adults that grew up as military children.
There are a few things that help predict if a child is going to be negatively effected during a deployment of a parent. The more prominent predictor is history of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders (Chandra, 2010). The second predictor is how the primary care-giver during deployment, injury, or death handles the stress of the events (Lester, 2010).
There are many programs on military bases that focus on school aged children meant to help them cope with deployment. School counselors are trained in handling deployment stress. Teachers are trained in recognizing signs of deployment related stress and when to send the child to a counselor for help. There are workshops and events meant to help children handle deployment stresses as well. Children that have a history of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety have doctors and parents monitoring them for signs that the stress caused by the deployment is becoming too great.
The second cause of difficulties in children coping with deployment goes fairly unmonitored, at least in my experience. One of the main effects on how a child is going to handle the prolonged separation of deployment and later reintegration of the deployed parent is how the parent that is left at home handles the stress. If the stay at home parent becomes depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, the child is likely to mimic these responses. The only “screening” for depression I have received during both deployments has been during prenatal and postnatal care, where an easily figured out survey asks how you feel about your situation, if you are overwhelmed at time, if you are able to laugh as often as before, if you often cry, and so on. Each question has five choices, labeled one through five and are scored by the number next to the answer. The lower the score the better. If you do not want to admit you need help, it is easy to go through and answer just looking at the numbers; pick mostly answers that score 0 and one or two that score a 2 and they will let you go home, unquestioned. The one time I filled out the survey honestly, I was referred to a postpartum depression support group that meets once a month on Thursdays. My son was almost five months and this was the first sign I was developing a problem, but because my child was under a year old, it must be postpartum depression, not normal feelings of being overwhelmed during a deployment or a sign that I needed help coping with deployment. If the mental health of the care-giver is the number predictor of how young children are going to cope with deployments, injuries, and death then as much time should be spent monitoring those care-givers for mental distress as is spent on the children themselves.
The reason for the child being effected most greatly by the care-giver's emotions is clear, especially for young children. The younger the child, the less they understand about how the world works, the cycle of deployments, the normal cycles of everyday life that most Americans live, the permanency of death, and how to handle all of these things. The child looks to the adult to figure out how they should be reacting, how they should feel, and how they should act. If the adult is spinning into depression, they are not only less able to take care of their own and the child's needs, but also demonstrating that the other parent's absence is something that should cause great sadness that diminishes the ability to experience happy times. If the adult is having anxiety attacks and obsessing over the news, the child is seeing the fear and feeling like there is something to fear, the news of war will back up this feeling because it will focus on the deaths which only make up about 1% of the soldiers that have fought in the wars in the Middle East (Cozza, 2007).
Some other factors that complicate military life for children is the traditions that are intertwined with the lifestyle. The traditions can be used as either coping mechanisms or can be harmful to the child if they are not monitored for responses to these traditions. Supportive traditions include duty, patriotism, pride, and structure. The ambiguous traditions include funeral traditions such as the child speaking, the gun fire, and memorials (Cozza, 2007). If the child is not monitored, they may become uncomfortable speaking at the fallen warrior's funeral, scared by the gunshots, and depressed at the constant reminders of the death at the memorial services. These can also be positive things if the child views speaking as a privilege because they can share their memories of their loved ones with the other people that loved them, the gunshots as an honor toward their fallen service member, and the memorials a sign that everyone cared about their loved one and is there for their family. A lot of how the child will react to these traditions is dictated by how the parent reacts to these traditions and how forced the child is. If the surviving family member is too depressed to see that the child does not want to speak, they may have them get up and cause further stress. If the surviving spouse has not explained the gunshots, the child may be afraid. If the spouse does not handle memorials well and continually breaks down during them, the child may view them the same way, as a sad reminder not an honor to their loved one.
With all being said, there are ways a military parent can educate themselves in how to handle the stresses of military life and where to reach out to. Many of the resources are able to be found on www.militaryonesource.com or by visiting the local ACS building. The FRG also supports the spouses of deployed military personnel and gives out pertinent information to the group members. There are classes offered through ACS for coping financially and otherwise and counselors on call for all the people related to the military on and around the bases.
Chandra A, Lara-Cinisomo S, Jaycox LH, Tanielian T, Burns RM, Ruder T, Han B., (2010) Children on the homefront: the experience of children from military families.
Cozza, S. (2007). The Young Military Child, retrieved may 4, 2011 from http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_military_journal_article
Lester P, Peterson K, Reeves J, Knauss L, Glover D, Mogil C, Duan N, Saltzman W, Pynoos R, Wilt K, Beardslee W., (2010) The long war and parental combat deployment: effects on military children and at-home spouses
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