There are 1.76 million children in military families. The vast majority of these kids are under age eleven, and eighty percent are fifteen or younger.
Despite the fact that it is not all that uncommon to have a parent in the military, children growing up in military families may sometimes feel like they are quite alone in their struggles. Having a parent in the military can have an impact on a child, whether they are a young toddler or an independent teen, or anywhere in between.
Frequent Moves Can Be Tough
A typical military family moves every three years. These moves can be stressful and disrupting for children, regardless of age. While some children find making new friends and adjusting to a new school a seamless process, others mourn the loss of their current group of friends and find it hard to connect with students at their new school. Even the most outgoing and extroverted child can still miss their friends and former teachers and have worries about liking and fitting in at their new school.
Behavioral Problems and Mental Health Challenges are Also Common
Research has found links between a military parent’s deployment and an increase in behavioral challenges in children, such as sleeping, high levels of stress and anxiety, and a drop in grades. Also, a military parent with post-traumatic stress disorder can experience symptoms that may, in essence, rub off on their children. For instance, people who have PTSD often re-experience traumatic events; in many cases, these intense feelings of fear, anger, and guilt can come out of nowhere and be frightening for both the affected parent and the child witnessing it. In addition, a parent with PTSD may not want to participate in activities that they previously enjoyed, such as going to the movies or a child’s birthday party. This can make children feel like their parent doesn’t want to spend time with them—even if that is far from the case.
Tips to Help Kids Cope
One of the best ways to help children of all ages cope with the challenges they are experiencing is to keep the lines of communication open. Remind your children that it is normal to feel all sorts of emotions, including being scared, sad, or angry. If a parent is currently deployed, talk about them often and encourage your children to stay in regular touch through phone calls, emails, or letters. When you have to move again, empathize with your kids, telling them that you know how hard it is to switch schools. Visit the area ahead of time if you can and figure out where the school and local parks are located.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges, please contact the professionals at the Las Encinas Recovery Center to learn more about our mental health services. We are here for your support!