April Is Month of the Military Child

One of my key concerns about our children in America is the children of our military. It just so happens that April is the month where we recognize these children of our military families who often have so many challenges that most children do not experience.

Life for children in the military involves challenges

daughter hugging soldier parent
Among preschool-age children, those whose parents were deployed experienced high levels of anxiousness and emotional reactivity compared to other kids.
The separation may last up to 18 months.

Just the fact these children move so frequently with their military parent creates many personal and relational deficits. Loss of friends, change in neighborhoods, change of schools, fear of establishing long-term friendships (that you will one day lose) and other consequences of transitions make it difficult for these children to establish and remain in a stable environment.

Another issue is secondary PTSD. So many of our military come home from their tour of duty with a variety of symptoms related to post-traumatic stress.

Secondary PTSD

Children of military personnel who have PTSD often manifest the same symptoms as their parent. High anxiety, depression, imprinting, reliving the trauma, hypervigilance, dissociative behavior, mental disorders and other related symptoms can be a part of their everyday experience.

In fact, the transition of their parent returning home can also be difficult for these children. Often,  a significant period of adjustment for the family occurs when the parent returns.

While children look forward to their parent’s return, they may find the parent so engrossed in military duties (and the accompanying issues) that he or she brings some of that hypervigilance home. Secondly, routines and rules change radically upon the entrance of that parent. So, rather than a peaceful environment, it can become one of fear, adjustment, anxiety or anger. Children are very sensitive to this period of adjustment and often personalize their parent’s reaction. Children can bear the responsibility for their parent’s behavior because they want to make the situation better and cannot.

What many children of non-military homes take for granted may not be the real world for a military child. 

The sense of an emotionally and relationally safe home may not be in the experience of military children. In fact they often have two different home experiences. One is when their military parent is away and the other is when they are in the home. The relational dynamics are completely different when the military parent is home. These children need such affirmation and support as the struggle through what it means to have a parent that often can be unpredictable at best.

In essence, these children can experience a level of trauma

The trauma which occurs from these radical changes in the children’s lives can have lasting impact on their emotional and relational health. They may be living in a passive-aggressive world that can feel very unstable at times.

Children and teenagers have a lot of physical, developmental, relational and emotional issues going on in their normal growth and development. Add to that a changing home environment, and you can imagine the sense of unpredictability they experience each day.

As we contemplate and honor these children in this month of April, I hope we can have a raised awareness of their needs and can support them in our schools, families and communities.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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