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Helping Military Kids Build Resiliency

For nearly ten years, we have been engaged as a nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that time, our military children have also been engaged in these wars.

They have been through the repetitive deployments, the long separations. Some of our children have seen injuries, experienced the death of a loved one, or now know about PTSD and its effects on a family. Many of today’s military children cannot recall a time when the war did not touch their lives in some way.

How do we reach out to these children? How do we help them prepare for the uncertainty of military life? How do we help them develop the skills to strengthen their psychological resilience and respond effectively to stress? In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Deployment-Related Stress Coping with deployment-related stress is remarkably similar to coping with stress from other causes. As a parent or caregiver knows, there are differences in how children of various ages cope with stress, but what they need from their parents is remarkably similar.

  • Children need to know that they are still cared for. They need extra attention and patience from their parents.
  • They benefit from finding ways to stay connected, both with their parents and with their friends.
  • They need to feel listened to when they have concerns. They need to be told age-appropriate truths about the situations they face.
  • Routine and structure help provide an increased sense of security for all.
  • Most of all, in addition to developing skills to handle stress, kids need time to be kids!

The business of childhood is to be a good child, not a good adult. As adults, we must remember that our personal resilience is influenced by our experiences and how we have met both positive and negative challenges in our lives.

For most children, the parents, caregivers, teachers and other important adults in their lives serve as role models and provide guidance for how to cope with stressors and difficulties they may face. It is our responsibility to effectively model and help teach military children to develop their psychological resilience while also helping them to lead normal lives as children.

Resiliency Training Resiliency training, such as the American Red Cross Coping with Deployments course, is free of charge and can be offered to groups any time, any place. This excellent course offers guidelines for increasing resiliency in ourselves and our children, and also provides information on how to provide psychological first aid to adults and children in distress. It can also serve as a useful link to connect you with other military families in your community.

Call your local Red Cross to schedule this training for your Family Readiness Group (FRG), spouses’ club or other group. Lessons learned early about connecting and supporting and becoming strong may help curb development of more serious conditions down the road. Remember, resilience is not a personality trait; it is something that each of us, including our children, can develop and strengthen over time.

Ingrid Torres received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Michigan and is a licensed certified social worker who has worked with military personnel and their families in Japan, Korea, Germany, Iraq, and with the wounded warriors at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She is a proud Air Force spouse and sister to an Illinois Army National Guardsman. Ingrid is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the American Red Cross. Parts of this essay were adapted from the American Red Cross Coping with Deployments course.