April is the Month of the Military Child, so you may see various articles and memes celebrating the resiliency of military kids. They are compared to dandelions, because military kids can put down roots anywhere and learn to “bloom where they are planted.” While I believe that there are a lot of great things about military kids, and I have great respect for all that my four kids have been through during their Dad’s military career, I don’t think it’s rainbows and butterflies all the time. Military kids are often under incredible stress and challenges much bigger than they should be expected to handle at a young age. There’s a lot more that we can do to support military kids and help them through the challenges of military life.
I wanted to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of military kid life, along with various ways we can support military kids. You can watch this FB Live video to see the full discussion about the benefits and challenges of growing up with a parent in the military.
The positive traits in military kids:
Most military kids demonstrate these characteristics. These are the positive things we celebrate in our military children, and the good things kids gain from their military lifestyle.
Adaptable: After many moves and adjusting to new situations, adults who grew up as military kids are better prepared to handle change and deal with unexpected situations.
Empathetic: Military kids know what it’s like to be the new kid. They are also aware at a young age that others might be acting out because of a deployment. They quickly form connections with their peers that might not be expected from non-military kids the same age.
Broad world view: Many military kids have lived in other countries where people don’t speak English, and traveled to places where the history and traditions are thousands of years old. If they haven’t, there is a good chance they have a neighbor or classmate who has. Kids benefit from exposure to people from all over the country and the world.
Resilient: This seems to be the unofficial word to describe military children. They have learned how to cope with stress and disappointment to get through deployments and stressful situations.
Adventurous: Most military kids are used to moving and big life changes, so they are always ready for new friends, new homes, and unusual opportunities—like living overseas or going camping across the country.
The challenges of being a military kid:
Distant: It’s difficult to feel connected when living far from family and friends. It’s common for military kids to feel disconnected from their service member parent, especially if they are often away training. Some military kids complain about living in remote bases with little entertainment or opportunities.
Nomadic: Military kids are not “from” anywhere, since they move multiple times as a child. This often leaves them with no roots, feeling like they are an outsider who doesn’t belong.
Lack of support: Depending on the location, some towns around military bases are not friendly to military families. This can leave military kids growing up with few meaningful connections to the community.
Education issues: The quality of education available to military kids varies from one base to another. Unfortunately, since military families have little control over where they are stationed, they do not always get to choose what works best for their child. There is often a lack of school choice, special needs are not always met, and the quality of education is low at some military locations
Special needs: Tricare is good, but not always the best care for some needs and children. EFMP status can limit or restrict families and make them spend more time apart.
What can we do to support military kids?
Listen to their fears and struggles. Take them seriously. Don’t brush aside their concerns.
Build relationships with our own kids and others in the community. Help them discover their skills and understand their role in society. Help them connect with distant family members. Seek out father figures or mentors to support them and be good role models.
Increase awareness of resources: So many organizations and non-profits want to help military kids. But they don’t always promote themselves well. Many are mentioned in my Ultimate Deployment Binder and also in my Deployment Masterclass.
Improve education options: This will happen through legislation, involvement in PTA, and being proactive for our children’s needs. You can research and learn about a new duty station before you move.
Improve medical care: Increased access to specialists will improve care at remote duty stations, and improved medical options will allow special needs families to be stationed at more locations. The EFMP program needs to work harder to serve families while allowing the military member to serve too.
Our military kids face incredible challenges, and they come through with strength and courage. But we don’t need to abandon them on their journey, claiming that they are resilient and will be just fine. There is much that we can do to support military kids and improve their lives while their parent serves.