Like all families, military families experience special challenges and triumphs. As a family child care provider, you must be familiar with common situations that military families face. Some of these challenges are:
- Frequent moves
- Current events and media coverage
Military life is full of change and often entails frequent moves for a family. Change can be difficult, especially for children who may look at moving as being taken away from their school, friends, and activities. It is important that you make families that have just been through a move feel welcome at your program. Fortunately, most children of military families will understand what it is like to be “the new kid” and will work with you to create a welcoming and fun environment for your new arrivals. The National Military Family Association recommends these tips for working with families who have recently moved into your program:
- Provide a welcome packet to all new families; include information on local resources and the community. Include information on local parks, recreation centers, athletic clubs, and popular activities in the area.
- Create a buddy system. Pair a child that has recently moved into your program with a child their own age that knows the program well. This will help the new child feel welcome and comfortable in their new environment.
- Create a travelers club. Many of the children from military families in your program have traveled throughout the country and perhaps even the world. Celebrate this by dedicating time to let children share stories about where they have lived. This will help your children feel that they belong and that their way of living is not out of the ordinary.
Children who are leaving your program because of a family move will need support as well. Children leaving your program may be upset about moving away from your program, their school, their friends, their routines, and the comforts of home. You can help by creating a gift for them to take to their new home. Work with the other children in your program to create a memory book for each child when they leave. Include photos and stories from their time at your program. If time permits, have their friends write a note or draw a picture for the book. You and the other members of your program could also write a note or memory of the child. This will be comforting when the child arrives in their new home and it will give them something to help remember their time in your family child care home.
Understanding Current Events
Older children have access to news and current events through media outlets such as television, radio, internet, and newspapers. Having information at their fingertips can cause concern for some children with family members in the military. Hearing or reading information about wartime issues, politics, terrorist threats, or unsafe conditions across the world can be stressful for children. You can help children process this information by only sharing factual information. Avoid sharing opinions and speculation. Inform families if you hear children discussing a specific topic or current event. This way, families can prepare to have a conversation at home if needed.
Deployment, frequent moves, changes, and other factors of military life will put stress on the military children and their family members. Some of these stressors can cause issues with a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral health at home, in school, or in your program. The presidential initiative “Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment,” points to a 2010 study that found “an 11 percent increase in outpatient visits for behavioral health issues among a group of 3- to 8-year-old children of military parents and an increase of 18 percent in behavioral disorders and 19 percent in stress disorders when a parent was deployed.” There are programs in place throughout the military that are designed to support and assist families going through a deployment. Check with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator for information about these programs.
The following table will give some examples of common stress indicators found in children.
Common Stress Indicators
Each child will react to stress differently, so while the list above is a good place to start, it will not cover every behavior you may see. As you make daily observations of children, you should make note of any behaviors that are unusual or out of character. If you notice the behaviors becoming a pattern, you should talk to your supervisor about having a discussion with the family.
Different children will cope with stress in different ways. A few of the most common coping strategies are:
- Physical activity
- Listening to or playing music
- Writing, drawing, or journaling
- Talking it out with others
How to Help
In addition to promoting coping strategies, you should create opportunities for children to express their emotions and listen to others. Knowing that there are other children in a similar situation or that at least one other person can understand what they are going through can have a huge impact on how a child deals with stress. Always listen to children when they are expressing themselves or confiding in you. Don’t discount their feelings or emotions. Encourage expression and listen without judgment. Sometimes, children can feel that they have no choice in a situation. When a parent or loved one is deployed, nothing they do will ensure their safe return. This can cause a child to feel helpless and dependent. Try to offset this feeling by allowing the child to make decisions and take responsibility when they can. Helping others is another great way to alleviate stress. When children see their actions helping those in need, they feel useful and responsible.