Friday, April 26, 2013

Safeguarding Military Kids

Last week I shared my constant concern about how the military life affects our kids. It used to be a real hang up for me. I didn't want my husband to continue his military career because of my worries. In fact, I would bombard every adult "military brat" with questions. Growing up in a small, close knit Midwestern community was vastly different from the diverse ever changing military environment we now live. Honestly, the majority of my high school graduating class began kindergarten together. Here, we are lucky if we have the same neighbors when summer rolls around.

After my husband decided to make the military a career, I settled into raising 'military kids'. I became more proactive in creating an environment to safe guard them from the inconsistency of military life. A lot of what I've learned has been trial and error. But I credit my degree in Human Development for some of our success too. I feel a certain advantage in having studied the ins and outs of how people come to be who they are. I understand how psychology, sociology, and biology work together to shape a person. I also know culture and community play a big role. Simply put you may be the world's greatest mom but outside influences still affect your children.

I do not claim to be an expert in the area of military families or parenting. But I do have a few years of experience. Here are five things we are doing to help our kids thrive in the military community.

1.) Make civilian friends. They provide a consistency military friends most likely will not. Moving in the military cannot be helped. Honestly, you have no choice. If you get orders, then chances are you will move. Or your military friends will move. Which happens a lot, especially if those friends are absolutely wonderful and you have lots in common...they always PCS across country or the globe. Ugh! How many times have you felt this frustration? Now imagine the heartbreak for a child. You can multiply it tenfold if the only friends they have are military kids. I'm not advocating dismissing friendships with other military families/kids. I'm suggesting striking a balance. If you don't know where to look for civilian friends, here are a few suggestions. Community supported extracurricular activities like Mommy and Me or soccer, church, or co-workers with kids.

2.) Never hide your emotions about the military life and don't let your children do it either. Of course, these things should be handled with maturity and age appropriateness. Remember you are a model to your children. They will pick up many cues from you. Talk to your kids. Tell them when you feel sad and share with them how you will cope to feel better. Coping is a biggie! Don't placate negative feelings with unrealistic expectations. Avoid telling your child, "Everything will be ok" or "It is what it is". Tell your kids these times are tough and they make you sad too. And it's ok to feel these negative things but always encourage your kids to not get stuck. Always think ahead...ask yourself "How can I prevent myself from landing in this exact same spot again?" Then make a plan to move forward. Most important, know when you are able to help and when you need to seek professional help. There are many programs and counselors available to help you and your children get over the hump of military stress. Take advantage of what is available!

3.) Involve your kids in extracurricular activities. Give your children a focus outside of your family unit. Put them in sports, encourage them to pursue academic interests, join a club, or start a hobby. All of these things help your child gain a sense of self-reliance and confidence. Not only does it help take the focus off of the military schedule or absence but kids begin to find a certain independence when they must rely on their own capabilities and contribute to a team effort.

4.) Utilize your extended family to support your children. The majority of military families live away from their extended families so making use of extended family is tricky. I also think it's very common with military families to not have extended families visit their duty station. Regardless of your extended families' involvement, I encourage you to take the lead for your military children. Here's the parents aren't the most child friendly (sorry folks). Nobody is a school teacher or has a 'Parent of the Year' award. But my parents bring something to the table I typically do not. Namely, patience and acceptance, in the form of less rules and more laughs. Plus, they have bigger houses in the middle of nowhere so my kids can run free. We try to plan an annual trip to Iowa. When my husband is deployed I like to visit family at midpoint. By the time we visit, I'm sort of at the end of my rope with the kids and they with me. I look at the visit as 'filling my kids love tank'. When we can't be with family, I love to utilize Skype or Facetime. It really is the next best thing to being together. And my kids go crazy (literally) to be able to see and talk to their auntie or whomever we Skype.

5.) Reap the benefits. There are definite perks to being a military family. For me, it is being stationed in states and countries I would have to spend thousands of dollars to visit. I always point out to my kids how fortunate we are to be able to just go and do. And then, we just go and do. Why not?!? Those are the perks and military families should take full advantage. When we attend community sponsored events, I always make sure the kids know the group putting on the event is saying 'Thank You'. I want our kids to know the bigger picture. Their dad sacrifices for the freedom of the nation. And people recognize his work. As military kids, they also sacrifice and it does not go unnoticed.

Small as kids are, they truly do serve our country too. I think it's important to help make them as successful as possible. What are some things you do to 'safeguard' your kids from the stressors of military life?

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