15 Tips for Raising Military Brats
Help Your Child Enjoy this Adventurous, yet Chaotic Military Family Lifestyle
"Name a place and I'll tell you when I lived there." That eventually became my creative response to the trite college question, "Where are you from?"
By the time I was 18, I had called twelve places home. I attended three different high schools on two continents. I also moved my senior year, and accompanied my family as they relocated across the country just days after I graduated. When I attended college in Arkansas, I had a Pennsylvania driver's license with a California address.
In addition, I watched my mom go into single mom mode frequently when my father was TDY or deployed. I survived my childhood as an "Army Brat." I actually enjoyed parts of this lifestyle, it was always an adventure. And, hey, if I ever got on someone's bad side, I could just tell myself I'd be moving soon anyway and it wouldn't matter.
From my nomadic childhood, I feel that I have better social skills, am flexible and adjust well to change. It was difficult having my father gone sometimes, and the lifestyle does have its ups and downs. Being a military brat can be challenging for children and teens. If you are a parent or spouse, here are fifteen tips on how to provide a healthy, yet fun childhood for your little one.
Have a Positive Attitude and Mindset
One of the best things you can do for your child is to be a good example. If you are constantly negative, your child will imitate your pessimism. Be careful with what you say around your children. Try not to say "I hate it here!", "I hate the Army", or "I wish we weren't moving."
Instead, make positive statements, such as "I love the scenery here, it's so pretty.", or "It'll be fun to experience a new culture." Of course, at tough times (such as deployment), express your emotions, but try to be optimistic when talking to your child. You can say, "I miss Daddy, I can't wait till he's home - just 14 more weeks to go!". Or, "Daddy is serving our country, I"m so proud of him. I miss him a lot but he'll be home soon."
Help and Encourage Your Child to Make Friends at Each New Home
When I left for college as an adult, I had never had a friend for more than three years, and that was only in two locations. It can be very intimidating to make new friends in a strange place. Therefore, it is best, especially with younger children, if parents encourage their children to meet other kids. Avoid being a hermit the first few weeks after you move to a new place. Here are some ideas:
- Visit the playground often, converse with other parents and help the kids meet each other. If you make a connection with another family, try to arrange for a play date.
- If you're stateside (or even if you're not), find a local playgroup. Search at meetup.com, or on local Facebook groups. If you can't find one, try to start your own.
- Try to enroll your child in a sport or class (such as ballet) soon after arriving at a new location, The frequent interaction is bound to help them form new friendships.
- If you move in the summer, one of the best ways to help your kids make friends is to frequent the base pool. Try to get a membership and take them swimming often.
- Have birthday parties. With younger kids, it doesn't really matter. But with older children and teens this is a perfect opportunity to build their friendships. Also, try to take your child to all birthdays they are invited to.
- Encourage your children to keep in touch with friends after they move. If they are over 13, allow your child to have a Facebook account that you monitor daily. E-mail is also a great way to keep in touch. Allow older kids to call, if they want.
- If you have children under age 6, join a local MOPS group for moms. It will allow you to connect with other moms, and possibly help your child make new friends. Some areas even have MOPS just for military moms.
Join a Church
Church isn't just a place to worship God and grow spiritually, it also provides support and encouragement. It will give your children (and you) a sense of belonging. It is an additional opportunity to make friends. Another benefit is your church family should help you through tough times, such as deployment.
Try to find a local church as soon as you move to a new location, and be as active as possible. When your kids are grown and come back to their former homes to visit, they might enjoy having a place to reconnect with old friends.
Try to Have at Least Two Children
Obviously, this may not be possible in some situations. But, if it's up to you, try to avoid having an only child. His/her childhood will be so much better with a sibling to share the ups and downs with. Moving to a new place might be less frightening if they already have a brother/sister to play with.
Promote Cousin Relationships
Relationships with cousins are one way to have a (somewhat) stable relationship with another child that can grow into adulthood. They'll thank you later when they're grown and on their own. If you're blessed to have a good family and with nieces and nephews around your kids' ages, promote their relationships with their cousins and family. This might involve letting them call each other often, keeping in touch through e-mail or letters, even letting them go visit for a week in the summer. Another idea is to send them to a summer camp together. Of course, in some cases, cousins may not stand each other, but you can at least try.
If Possible, Choose Schools Wisely
This one doesn't apply if you're living overseas or at a base/post in a small town. But, if you're living off base in a larger city, say, San Antonio, try to choose your new home in a good school area, preferably with a large population of other military children.
There is a big difference between moving to a new school with other military brats, than a school with civilian children where they've been best friends since second grade. Trust me on that one. Just a side note: make sure they never wear clothing from their old school (such as a letter jacket) in the first few weeks of the school year. For that matter, splurge a little on the first day of school outfit, if possible. First impressions do make a difference. With online shopping, brats today have it much better than those of my era. There were times when I'd go to school wearing a new outfit from the PX and there would be two other kids with the same one!
Create Family Traditions
Family traditions create lasting memories and can be just plain fun. Try to establish some traditions at holidays, or even not at holidays. It could be something as simple as having waffles every Sunday night, or eating out the night before the first day of school. It promotes family bonding and a sense of commitment.
Encourage Your Children to Express Feelings Often
Ask your child often how they are feeling (about moving, daddy being deployed, etc.) and let them speak their mind. It is unhealthy to keep their feelings bottled up. Try to respond with encouraging and positive feedback, if feasible. Try to help them realize the positives when possible. To help younger children open up to you,read books about military life, moving, etc. Here are some to try:
- Daddy, You're My Hero! by Michelle Ferguson-Cohen
- A Yellow Ribbon for Daddy by Anissa Mersiowsky
- A Paper Hug by Stephanie Skolmoski and Anneliese Bennion
- Mommy, You're My Hero! by Michelle Ferguson-Cohen
- While You Are Away by Eileen Spinelli
- I'm Not Moving, Mama by Nancy White Carlstrom
- Big Ernie's New Home: A Story for Young Children Who Are Moving by Whitney Martin
Take Parenting Classes and Get Support
Most bases have parenting classes through MWR or ACS. These courses will not only help you be a better parent, you will find support from other parents in similar situations. Classes include conflict interaction, dealing with teenage dating, coping with deployment and more. Also, you can connect with other military parents online. Some websites are www.militarywives.com, www.armywives.com, and www.armywivesforums.com.
There are also some resourceful books to read. Here are a few to consider:
- Help! I'm a Military Spouse--I Get a Life Too!: How to Craft a Life for You As You Move With the Military by Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer
- Separated by Duty, United in Love by Shellie Vandevoorde
- Surviving Deployment: A Guide for Military Families by Karen M. Pavlicin
Save for College
Obviously, it might not be financially possible, but if you can, try to save so your child can attend the college of his/her choice. For many military brats, this means a private school with students from all over the US, or even the world. College might be the first place for your grown child to establish roots and build lifelong friendships.
Unfortunately, they might feel a little out of place in a state university with kids who lived in the same house for eighteen years. A good college can help them get a great start on life. It is also wise to encourage teenagers to find employment so that they can help contribute. It could be a job delivering the Stars and Stripes newspaper, or a summer hire job cleaning offices. Military bases are also the perfect place to find baby-sitting jobs and vacation pet-sitting jobs. And, there's always Burger King.
Send Care Packages (When Dad or Mom is Deployed)
Care packages can be like little boxes of pure gold to a deployed soldier. Not only can sending a care package to Daddy (or Mommy) when he/she is deployed brighten his/her day, it will make your children feel proud and more connected with their parent. Let the child(ren) pick out things to add to the package. Well, you might want to draw the line at a 5 lb bag of sugar. He/she will feel important.
Create Scrapbooks or Photo Albums
This of course is a good tip for all families, not just military ones. Creating scrapbooks and photo albums make memories tangible. They'll enjoy reminiscing and reviewing their life experiences. If you're stateside, most communities offer scrap-booking classes, but of course, you can create your own without help. Your grand kids will enjoy seeing the adventurous lives their parents had.
Watch for Signs of Depression
The stressful and chaotic lives of military brats can sometimes lead to mental health issues. Therefore, watch for signs in your child/teen such as:
- Loss of Interest in Normal Activities
- Crying spells for no reason
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Talking of suicide (If your child shows signs, please get help immediately.
In some situations, it might be financially impossible, but if you can, try to travel some at each location. Even just one small trip a year is beneficial. It will help them appreciate where they've lived when they're older. It addition, it can assist with geography projects, and impress their small town college friends.
Prevent Abuse in Your Family
Sadly, child abuse statistics are higher in military families. If you ever feel that you might lose your temper and hurt or neglect your child, please seek help immediately. The same goes if you ever suspect your spouse might be harming your child. If you feel that you have anger issues, enroll in an anger management course and/or get counseling offered on most bases. Take care of yourself.
Raising a child in the military is tough, but not impossible. Take it one day at a time. Happy Parenting!