Children and Parents in the Military

Life isn’t always easy for kids growing up in the military. They have to deal with frequent moves, parents getting deployed, and finding a place to fit in as they mature. It’s no wonder then, that military brats often experience confusion, stress, anger, fear, or despair. But the news isn’t all bad. Military kids also experience great joy and happiness. Either way, it’s important to understand that children go through many changes during childhood and are especially vulnerable in their older childhood years, as puberty looms. Here are six powerful ways you can be their biggest supporter and cheerleader through the tough times. 


Talk Openly

communicate with kids
Getty Images/Catherine Ledner

One of the most important ways to support your children is to talk with them—as opposed to at them or to them. So if you haven’t had long chats in the past, now’s the time to start. Let them lead the discussion and encourage them to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes, joys, fears, or doubts with you. But don’t pressure them to talk—if you try to, they’ll be more likely to hide things from you in the future.

When you change the way you communicate with your children, they, in turn, will learn that they can trust you. Having open and honest communication will help you know exactly how to best help and support your child.  


Give Children Space to Express Feelings

A study done by the National Military Family Association compared children in the civilian sector to those raised in military families and found that military kids struggle a little bit more during deployment time than their civilian peers. They have a harder time adjusting to change and may lash out or ignore their caregiver. They have a tougher time connecting with peers and may become jealous when they see other people with their whole family together. Some of these military children have poorer performance in school and struggle to keep up in class.

Others face mental health issues.

Allowing children to express how they truly feel—whether those feelings are good, bad, or indifferent—can greatly benefit them.

If your child is acting out and you don’t know why or what you can do to help, there are resources available to you in the military. Your child could benefit from meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist. Group therapy can be a useful tool for children or teens to express themselves with the support of other kids who are in similar circumstances. Whatever you decide to do, remember how important it is to allow your children to communicate their struggles with you and others. 


Maintain Normal Routines

Whether a parent is preparing to deploy or is already deployed, your family is moving again soon, or your children are anxious about starting a new school, the best thing you can do is provide a routine. Establishing routines can be very effective in helping your kids feel more in control of their life. Make sure the kids are up at the same time each day and be clear on what they can expect in terms of dinner time, after dinner activities, bedtimes, and weekends.

Children with set routines experience fewer emotional highs, lows, and uncertainty as those who have no idea what to expect at any given time or day.  


Help Children Communicate With the Deployed Parent

Some children will hold back from writing or calling a deployed parent because they’re scared that things are different or they feel that they’ve been abandoned. Help your small children write a simple letter or draw a picture for their deployed parent. Tell them how happy the letter or picture will make dad (or mom) and encourage them to include that parent in their lives. Encourage older children to keep journals or mementos of important events or occasions that they can share with the deployed parent when he or she gets back. Encourage all family members to participate in phone and video calls and to share positive news with the deployed family member.  


Help Them Sort Through Those “Coming Home” Feelings

All children are naturally excited for their parent to come back home but they will show it in different ways. Some will feel nervous in the weeks, days, and hours before the deployed parent comes home. They may even feel guilty about feeling nervous. If you sense that that’s what’s happening, it’s important to help them understand that those feelings are perfectly natural. Children may feel nervous because they aren’t sure how things will go when the deployed parent comes home, whether the parent has changed, or whether he or she won’t notice that the child has changed and grown since the deployment began.

Some children worry that certain privileges will be taken away when the deployed parent gets home or that discipline will be stricter. And once the deployed parent actually comes home, children may have a hard time adjusting. Toddlers and babies will likely be wary of the new “stranger,” and small children might be shy at first. Elementary age kids may act as if dad is their hero and follow him around everywhere, while teens might avoid dad because they aren’t sure how to act around him yet. Readjustment periods are normal and take a bit of time for everyone to get used to each other. 


Celebrate Their Unique Gifts and Talents

Every child has special character traits, skills, abilities, gifts, and talents that will help them as they go throughout life.

Children who are encouraged to develop and pursue their goals are ultimately more successful than those who get less encouragement.

One of the best ways to stop a child from moping around or worrying incessantly is to turn their attention and focus elsewhere. Military children can be especially resourceful, creative, and inspired because of the hard situations they’ve had to endure early in life.

They deserve our attention, love, and care. We don’t know all the ways that being in a military family is changing them, but we do know that these children are resilient and strong. They’ve been through difficult trials and most come out the better for it. In the long run, the majority of children who feel confident that their parents love and support them will do just fine.  

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