Supporting Military Families
When a person serves the nation through the military, his or her family also serves. Service takes true commitment and sacrifice from all members of military families. We thank you.
It is true that military kids are kids first. But it’s also true that they share the source of their abundant strengths and a predictable set of challenges. You’ll find helpful materials throughout our site. Here, we want to highlight resources and strategies deserving of your focused attention as you raise military-affiliated children.
Healthy, resilient families are key to shaping a generation of young people prepared to lead us into the future.
Building Youth Resilience
There are core elements known to prepare young people to thrive in both good and challenging times. They stem from The Seven C’s of Resilience model, which is inspired by the Five C’s of Positive Youth Development. The 5 C’s have been extensively studied by Dr. Richard Lerner (a board member at The Military Child Education Coalition) and colleagues.
The military lifestyle enhances some of the C’s. Parents should highlight and underscore these strengths and protective forces. On the other hand, there are some C‘s that are challenged by the military lifestyle and deserve special attention. Here’s how each C may be impacted by the military lifestyle.
Frequent moves can support confidence-building as young people learn to adjust to new settings and friends. However, some children will need extra support to build their confidence in new settings.
Building skill sets — competence — is central to adolescent development. It is important to know that frequent moves may challenge the development of new skill-sets. With some planning ahead and knowledge of what resources are available in a new community, military teens can continue to build new competencies.
Human connection is undoubtedly the most protective force in all of our lives, and is particularly important for children and adolescents. On the one hand, it is the “C” most directly affected by the military lifestyle because the deployment cycle can separate children from one or both parents for extended periods of time. On the other hand, military youth are more likely than most other young people to have strong community connections. It takes intentional effort to maintain close relations with deployed parents and extended family.
Think of character as choosing to do the right thing even if nobody is looking. Here military-affiliated children have a head start as they are raised with parents typically driven by strong values, a clear sense of mission, and a commitment to serve the greater good.
Young people that know they matter gain strong protection. One of the best ways youth learn they matter is by giving to or serving others. This could include service to families, neighbors, communities, and the world-at-large. Military youth should know that they serve already as part of a family committed to contributing to the nation’s well-being.
Life can be stressful. How we respond to the discomfort caused by stress largely determines our state of health and well-being. Those who turn to quick, easy fixes may find themselves in self-destructive cycles. Those who choose positive, life-affirming coping strategies will thrive. There are a predictable set of stressors related to the deployment cycle. Because of these stressors, military youth may need additional guidance learning to cope.
Young people learn in childhood whether they believe they control their lives or whether they are controlled by others. They learn much of this by how they are disciplined. It is important that all caregivers are on the same page and actively participating in discipline. It’s just as crucial and may take additional strategizing when separated by distance.
Managing Stress and Coping with Challenges
The choices young people make to manage stress influences their health and well-being – even their safety – now and throughout their lifetimes. Parents protect teens by preparing them to manage life’s stressors in healthy ways. We offer a comprehensive set of resources that prepare parents both to model and guide their children to develop healthy stress management strategies. We also offer an individualized plan for young people, where they can draw from a variety of strategies to create a stress management plan that fits perfectly just for them.
The way in which parents balance the warmth they express with the rules and boundaries they set is known as parenting style. Young people whose parents balance both warmth and rules (authoritative) fare better in the long run than those raised with lots of warmth but few rules (permissive) or lots of rules but little warmth (authoritarian). Rules are followed most closely and appreciated most fully (yes appreciated!!) when parents make clear that rules exist as an expression of love and concern for safety, and a desire to have children grow to become their best selves.
Balanced parenting produces young people with high academic performance, strong emotional health, and who take the fewest behavioral risks. Military parents have the same range of parenting styles as do all parents. However, military members may need to strictly adhere to rules in their professional lives. Sometimes it’s a matter of professional responsibility. Sometimes it’s about survival. But the same approach to rules that works in the service should not be transferred directly to the home. A balanced parenting approach is still the strongest approach. Here are a few pieces to get you started:
- Guided by Love and Rules: When Our Children Benefit Most
- The Power of Love in Raising and Protecting Our Children
Disciplining Together …
Discipline can shape adolescents and strengthen family connections. It can also become the source of disagreements within the home. The word discipline means to teach or to guide, ideally in a loving way. Start by asking yourself, “Am I teaching?” This will set you on the right path to making effective disciplinary choices. If your actions feel more like control or punishment, then learning probably won’t happen.
Discipline is a central part of parenting — one in which all parents should be included. One way to get on the same page when it comes to discipline is to design an Adolescent Responsibility Contract (ARC). These contracts include all primary caretakers (parents, guardians, grandparents) and the young person. You can work on this agreement while sitting around the dining room table or you can build it together online if you’re separated by physical distance.
… Even When Apart
It’s important that the parent who is not physically present not be excluded from the discipline process. If that parent is only told when something goes wrong, they become the “enforcer.” Children come to expect, “Wait until your father hears about this!” or “Your mother is going to be so upset.” This makes the child associate one parent with getting in trouble. It can undermine the relationship and lead teens to dread communications with that parent.
When the ARC is created together, the presence of the parent separated by distance is still felt. This allows consequences to be immediate and more effective. Either parent can say, “Remember we all agreed as a family …” This allows the parent that’s not physically there to focus communication on all that children are doing right. They take on the key role of reinforcing positive behaviors. Even at a distance, focusing on raising a solid human being together will draw the family closer.
Get started today:
- Build a Comprehensive Approach to Discipline
- Get on the Same Page About Discipline
- How Effective Discipline Strengthens Families: Avoiding a Dysfunctional Discipline Communication Cycle
The Language of Love
There are many ways to let your children know you love them. Your presence, your ‘way to go’ as you squeeze their shoulder, your hugs, and the games you play. You do it through giving undivided attention. And through words. The military lifestyle sometimes takes away those expressions of love that require a physical presence. This makes it that much more important to express feelings through words. Sometimes words are all you have when separated by distance. Learn how to express your love effectively.
Letting Kids be Kids
When military families are in the midst of a deployment cycle, it is not uncommon for older children to step up to increased responsibility. This can be a great opportunity to gain a stronger sense of meaning and purpose as they contribute to the family’s well-being. But if children feel as though they aren’t experiencing their own childhood, they may become resentful of their new roles. This can lead to something known as “parentification” and can backfire. Parentified children may find it more difficult to accept their deployed parents’ authority upon return. They may become less willing to be guided by parents re-entering their daily lives. You can take steps to help children benefit from the increased responsibility while avoiding potential drawbacks.
Some military-affiliated children take their responsibility a step further. They see the added stress around them, and they want to do more than just step-up. They want to become perfect so they are never a source of added stress. The challenge is that perfectionists sometimes exclude their parents from knowing what’s really going on in their lives. They miss out on benefits that come from parents’ involvement. Let your children know how much you appreciate their caring about you. But also let them know not to try to spare you by withholding details of their lives. Encourage them to share their lives, both the ups and downs. This will allow you to better guide them.
- Helping Your Child be a High Achiever Instead of a Perfectionist
- Don’t Spare Me: Help Your Child Understand That you Want to be There When They Need you, Even if you are Busy or Stressed
Our Commitment to You
The Center for Parent and Teen Communication cares for and about all families. We take a special interest in serving the families of those who serve our nation.
Our Center’s Co-Founder, Dr. Ken Ginsburg has been honored to work with military youth and families through his affiliations with The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). Dr. Mary Keller, the President and Chief Executive Officer of MCEC, is a valued advisor to the CPTC. Dr. Ginsburg is also involved with the Military Services of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and his professional toolkit Reaching Teens is used widely by The U.S. Army’s Child and Youth Services.
Resources to Guide You
There are groups with special interest in those who serve the military. Access their resources to gain even more support.
- Visit the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) at https://www.militarychild.org to access rich materials to help military-affiliated children thrive.
- Many military communities are fortunate to have access to positive youth development programming. Check for information on the Boys and Girls Clubs at https://www.bgca.org/about-us/military or MCEC Student to Student programs at https://www.militarychild.org/programs/student-2-student.
- Take advantage of the peers and professionals who know how to build resilience in military-affiliated youth by looking into Military Student Transition Consultants at https://www.militarychild.org/programs/military-student-transition-consultants-mstc.