Fostering resilience in our military kids
I will never forget the day my four year-old son told me he wanted to move back to Texas. It had been a handful of trying of months for our family, and we were still doing our best to adjust to a new life overseas. Our PCS to Germany had been our fifth move in five years, and this time, we had come from a familiar place where we’d been surrounded by family and friends. While we were excited about the opportunity to travel and immerse ourselves in European culture, it had been particularly difficult to leave. I hadn’t realized just how hard it had been for our eldest boy until that moment. Looking into his big, blue, tear-rimmed eyes, a painful, helpless feeling stirred in my chest. As much as I wanted to click my heels together and whisk us all back
to the Lone Star State, I knew it wasn’t what our family needed.
It’s no secret that military life presents unique challenges for children of U.S. servicemembers, including frequent moves, school mobility and lengthy separations from Mom or Dad due to training and deployments. As loving parents, it is only natural for us to want to protect our children by avoiding stressful experiences altogether. However, resilient military kids stand out from their peers because they have learned how to overcome adversity in healthy ways. In turn, they have developed invaluable skills that allow them to manage stress and anxiety and display confidence in the midst of everyday trials.
Look for silver linings.
Maintaining an upbeat outlook in potentially negative situations helps children reframe their experiences in a positive light. Instead of focusing on what we left behind, for example, we encourage our boys to look forward to all of the fun trips we will be taking as a family.
Have a sense of humor.
There is plenty of truth to the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” A healthy fit of giggles has been shown to help relieve tension while reducing stress hormones and boosting the immune system. We try to look for ways to lighten gloomy moods with inside jokes, silly songs and amusing family anecdotes.
Putting our thoughts on paper helps us ponder and make sense of cloudy emotions. Keep a personal journal or sketchbook, and encourage your children to do the same. If we are feeling homesick, we often sit down with our boys and write letters or draw pictures to send to faraway family and friends.
Children long to know they are loved, no matter what, and that their feelings matter. Keep a close eye on your children’s behaviors. Invite them to ask questions and share their thoughts and emotions. We do our best to let our boys know they are not alone in any fears they may have. When appropriate, we also reveal that we have similar worries, too, but that we can overcome them together.
Manage stress and anxiety.
Children are more inclined to form their own healthy habits when they observe parents exercising, eating well and maintaining mental and emotional wellness. When we are feeling particularly stressed, we encourage our boys to take deep breaths and count down from 10 with us. We also like to listen to relaxing music, and go on family hikes to breathe in fresh air and expend pent up energy.
Team up with your spouse.
You and your spouse are stronger when you work together, especially when caring for your family. When your children witness you teaming up to tackle challenges — even when duty requires you to be physically apart — it helps them feel more secure in the ups and downs of military life.
Together, we can face difficult circumstances and use them to arm our children with the physical, mental and emotional tools they need to foster resilience as they grow.