Mother reading a book to her younger daughter

Stand up for MilKids: How You Can Make a Difference to a Military Child

In the military community, resilience is a familiar and important concept. Service members and their families are aware of the protective role that strong and healthy relationships play in enhancing readiness. The same is true for military children. Whether you have kids of your own or not, everyone in the military community has a positive role to play in a child’s life. In fact, researchers have discovered that the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is the presence of at least one stable and nurturing parent, caregiver, or other adult.

Just think back to when a teacher, coach, mentor or simply a neighbor gave you a compliment or helpful advice. It can be confidence-boosting. When an adult is present for a child, it helps that child build resilience and be better prepared to overcome adversities they may face, including times of great uncertainty like the COVID-19 pandemic, or a PCS, losing a parent or even abuse or neglect. That is because, as child development experts have discovered, trust and support from a safe adult promotes children’s development of healthy social behaviors and positive coping skills, which are crucial to their long-term emotional and physical wellbeing. That means that when you commit to be a positive example and a steady presence for a military child, your actions literally shape their long-term growth in positive ways. Your relationship provides structure, positive communication and stability.

The Science Behind Resilience

Discover how your actions help children develop resilience.

When a parent serves, children often benefit from the leadership, sacrifice, and strength their parents show by example. At the same time, it is particularly important for children to learn how to adapt, manage stress, and build resilience. You can help foster these skills by understanding the importance of, and committing to, practicing the following strategies for nurturing adult-child interactions.

Ways to Stand up for MilKids

You may be wondering exactly how you can help or stand up for a military child in your community. There are many ways and they don’t all require a major commitment on your part. Here are some ways you can change a child’s life for the better:

  • Offer praise and acknowledgement: Positive words can leave a lasting impression on a child. Saying something simple like “great job” and giving a high five or acknowledging their hard work can act as positive reinforcement. Praise can be given for simple acts, like finishing their homework on time or doing their chores, as well as to honor achievements like acing a test, expressing kindness to someone in need, or competing to their fullest in an athletic event—whether they win or lose.
  • Be an active listener: Children need the adults in their lives to regularly engage with them, check in on them, and even ask their opinions. This is especially important for children who may be struggling with a parent who is away on deployment. By simply asking them questions about their day and genuinely listening lets them know you care, and builds their trust—an especially important foundation that encourages them to seek out help for more serious matters. Be sure to give them your full attention. Put down your cellphone or tablet, make eye contact, and respond to what they are saying in the spirit of their mood. If they are serious, be serious with them. If they are playful, be playful too. Children learn to react and behave based on simple reinforcement by the adults they know. Most of all, believe what they are telling you and let them know you do.
  • Have fun together: Engage your inner child by taking the time to play games, read, or do arts and crafts with the children in your life. Making an effort to engage children in a safe and positive activity tells them that they are special, and worthy of your time. That makes a lasting impression on their self-worth. For ideas about what is available on your installation, use MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to look-up contact information for your local Child Development Center or Morale Welfare and Recreation office and reach out to find out what ideas they have for play time.
  • Learn how to manage your own stress: Children are sponges. They soak up the energy from the adults around them—good and bad. To keep your family strong, it is important to prioritize your own mental wellness and self-care, including learning how to handle stress in healthy ways, so you can shield them as best as possible from negative behaviors or adult worries. There are also ways adults can communicate serious topics with their children and answer tough questions in a calm, reassuring and developmentally appropriate manner.
  • Consider coaching a sports team: If you love sports and enjoy motivating others, then being a coach on your installation could be for you. There are many after-school activities available for adults to volunteer for, and it’s a great opportunity to act as a role model and teach kids how to work as a team.
  • Become a mentor: Mentoring a child is a great way to help build resilience. You can find opportunities to participate in mentorship programs on your installation. Being a positive influence and taking the time to get to know a child can make a big impact.

Positive, and consistent interactions with adults can help to counter child adversity including trauma, abuse or neglect. Children are “works in progress” and the influence of the adults around them is significant. Learn how others in the military community are helping to raise resilient kids or visit THRIVE to develop your own skills in positive adult-child interactions.

If you know a child who has experienced abuse, or has disclosed experiencing a difficult or traumatic life event, consider the following resources:

  • Contact your state’s Child Protective Services or installation Family Advocacy Program immediately if you have reason to suspect a child has experienced abuse or neglect. If you are overseas, your installation Family Advocacy Program will help coordinate with the appropriate overseas child welfare agency.
  • If you believe a child is in immediate risk of harm, call 911 or your international emergency contact number.
  • Read more about how to manage complex situations and how best to support children who have been through a difficult or painful experience. Visit What is Complex Trauma? A Resource Guide for Youth and Those Who Care About Them. If you are a parent or caregiver of a child who has been through a serious traumatic event, you can learn how to help your child heal from trauma.

Pay it forward and be a positive influence for the kids in your military community to help them grow safe and strong. Remember that taking the time to be a nurturing influence isn’t only the right thing to do—it’s also extremely rewarding.

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