April 17, 2015

By Ingrid Herrera-Yee

Mental health in schools   

April is the Month of the Military Child. This awareness month was established to highlight the important role that children play within the military community, and to recognize the sacrifices that they make as their parents serve in defense of our country.

Just to give you an idea of the number of children who have a parent (or two!) who serve, here are some statistics: There are approximately 2 million military children, ranging in ages from newborn to 18 years of age; 1.3 million military children are school-aged. They live in military and civilian communities, in urban, suburban and rural settings. They are our nation’s children. The majority of current military children have spent most—if not all—of their lives knowing nothing but a country at war.

When we think of the past 13 years of war, while our service men and women are bravely fighting the Global War on Terror, it’s easy to forget that the spouses and children left behind serve too. Our little guys have to deal with the emotional toll it takes on them to be separated from their parent from several months to a year or even more.

Often times, just as families are reunited and learning to adjust to life together as a family again, their parent is sent on another deployment or away for trainings. The separations weave in and out of a child’s life, affecting their development and the way in which they view their world. These kids face unique challenges related to military life and culture. They worry about their safety, they worry about whether they will see their mom or dad again, and they worry that they won’t be able to make it through another separation.

Since military kids are often moving—the average military family moves once every 2.5 years—they also experience disruptions in their relationships with friends. They must learn to adapt to new schools and new environments. Some children also experience the trauma of welcoming home an injured parent, or worse having to deal with their untimely and tragic loss.

According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children from military families have a higher risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and everything in between in comparison to children who are not from military families. For older kids and teens, they found that emotional issues were linked to longer parental deployments. Preschool-aged kids meanwhile showed high levels of emotional reactivity, anxiety and withdrawal compared to kids of parents who have not been deployed.

The good news is that these kids are also very resilient. Their experiences with military life help to shape them in positive ways. Because of the constant moves, they learn how to make friends easily, and are adept at bringing people together. They are often the new kid at school so they learn how to engage with a broad range of people.

Military kids, like their parents also learn to live a life of service. You can find military children doing extraordinary things in their communities, volunteering to give back and to change the world for the better.

The month of the military child is a great opportunity to reach out to military kids. Here are some ways you can connect with military kids year round:

  • Volunteer with organizations that serve military families. When you help the family, you help the child.
  • Talk to your own children. If your children or grandchildren go to school with military kids, encourage your child or grandchild to befriend them and show them around, often they are the new kid in school.
  • Attend military related community events. Reach out and introduce yourself and participate with military families in your community. 
  • Thank them. It may not be their choice, but thank them when you see them.

The next time you see a military family, remember: military kids serve too and your support and appreciation can mean so much to them.

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