Children can prove surprisingly resilient in the face of change, stress or challenges. It’s important for military parents to build a strong foundation for their children and instill coping skills that will serve them in the years to come.
A short definition of resiliency is an individual person’s ability to recover from a lot of stress or to adjust to permanent life changes quickly and adaptively. There are those who would argue that the military lifestyle is not for children, but in reality I think we have a lot of wonderful opportunities to help our children become resilient.
By the time they are adults they will have had to develop mechanisms for coping with difficult issues such as frequent relocation, saying goodbye to friends and having a parent serve in a time of war. In short, military kids learn resiliency through adaption. If they have the support, love and stability at home to help them with these adaptations, they become more resilient as they mature. These skills will serve them well as they grow into the next generation of leaders.
Resiliency can be a challenge even for the strongest of personalities when facing something as difficult as war, a parent who is deploying or supporting friends who may have a parent who is deployed. Below are a few things the American Psychiatric Association recommends parents do in order to help their children grow more resilient during a time of war:
- Talk with your child. When children have questions, answer them honestly but simply and with reassurance. Ask them what they think is happening, and listen to their answers. Don’t discount their feelings. Use black-and-white language that leaves no room for doubt, such as, “I will always take care of you.”
- Make your home a safe place emotionally for your child. Spend lots of family time with your child, especially during a time of war. Spend more time with your child playing games, reading, or just holding your child close.
- Limit the amount of news your child watches during a time of war. Turn off the TV or radio when war coverage is on. You don’t need to hide what’s happening in the world from your children, but neither do you have to expose them to constant stories about war. Monitor your child’s Internet usage.
- Realize that the stresses of war may heighten daily stresses. Your child might normally be able to handle a failed test or teasing, but be understanding that he may respond with anger or bad behavior to stress that normally wouldn’t rattle him. Reassure him that you just expect him to do his best.
- During a time of war, map out a routine and stick to it. Children are reassured by regular schedules. If homework is completed at a certain time, make sure you keep that time for homework.
- Make sure you take care of yourself. If you don’t, you may have less patience and less creativity at a time when your child needs both to reassure her about her own safety. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child.
- Tell children that they will be all right. Reassure them that they will be protected. Have an emergency plan for the family and share whatever parts of it you think your child can understand.
- Watch your child for signs of fear and anxiety he or she may not be able to put into words. Has your child become extra clingy, needing more hugs and kisses than usual? Have your child’s grades suddenly dropped? He may be feeling the pressure of what is going on in the world around him.
- Enlist your child’s help. Just because your child is young does not mean she cannot do age-appropriate chores, such as setting the table or cleaning her room. Make sure your child knows how her actions contribute to the entire family’s well-being.
- Put things into a positive perspective for your child. Neither you nor your child may have been through a war before, but you should tell your child that wars end. Point out times when your child has faced up to and conquered something that may have frightened him, whether it was fear of the dark or of entering a new classroom for the first time. When you talk about bad times, make sure you talk about the good times in the future as well.
Photo courtesy of USAG-Humphreys