Being the child of a military service member(s) is not easy, and comes with a set of challenges all its own. We’re sharing some ways to help your military child feel she has some control over her life.
If you are a military family member, or know one, you know that life is unpredictable. ‘Work’ pops up all the time, often with little notice, and sketchy return dates.
Children literally go for months (or even years) without their nuclear family members together, surviving through all the options technology brings to the military family today. My husband deployed to Afghanistan four days after my son turned two, and thankfully we were able to Facetime regularly. That’s not always the case for many deployed members, and our children are the ones who honorably and nobly deal with missing their parent.
That often also comes with anxiety. As well, military children are often asked to move on a consistent basis, from all they knew and loved, and with little regard for how they feel about it. We want our children to be okay with the decisions made and the moves taken, but the reality is that we don’t have much say in where we go either, and life must go on.
So littles of military families may often feel like they have no control in their life, and that can bring on anxiety, outbursts and even introversion when it comes to personality changes. Sometimes the best thing we can do is teach them how to have control in situations where we really have little control at all.
Most important, recognize your child’s discomfort is real. We say children are resilient, and they are, but they are also humans who are entitled to miss their friends and the known, forsaking it for the arduous task of making new friends and going into the unknown. Many may consider it adventure, and that helps…but even in adventure, it’s nice to feel like our concerns are valid and real.
We want to help them feel like they have a say when they don’t really, so we need to help them manage that unique dynamic, not eradicate it. Have discussions that encourage them to tell you where they feel they don’t have any control, and see if there are small battles you can help them win in the big war of things.
Simple discussions often allow them to feel as if they are family members contributing, versus family members having something done to them with little regard to their feelings. That can make a big difference in the way they approach the uncontrollable.
Afford them the same ways of coping you give yourself, to a degree. Yes, it might mean more screen time so that your kiddo can skype or text his best friend regularly, but that tradeoff is going to pay off when he is better adjusted in the change situation you are in. (And as a military family, you are almost always in some type of change situation!)
If it helps you to decorate so you feel at home, then consider the same might be for your child, and allow him or her to have a voice in their room decor, even if it is not at all what you’d pick. As well, it’s a good idea to let them see you decide to join clubs/groups to make new connections so they too feel that is not only an option, but a good one at that.
And as much as it may drive you crazy, give your children lots of opportunities to make choices and feel their voice matters. When they choose, even whether it’s the red polo or the blue polo for school uniform, they feel more in control of their life. Military children are susceptible to stress effects, and giving them control in choice making, even in small things, gives them somewhat of a balance in the situations they just can’t control.
More, when you are discussing things with your military child, particularly their likes/dislikes of the situation that is out of their control, talk about options. Sometimes, as in wanting to see dad during deployment, there aren’t many. But other times, like when dad has duty yet again, maybe there is — bringing dinner to dad for a quick hello, for instance.
When our kids realize that we understand this is a crazy ride, and we are in it with them when it comes to making choices, they will feel like they are helping to choose their own destiny, and that goes a long way for their satisfaction and well being.