National Guard kids deserve as much care and support as service members do. Military children face unique challenges from other children. They require special attention to help them adjust to the absence of a deployed family member, endure frequent relocation, or cope with other issues related to having a loved one in the National Guard. With support, you can help your child weather these changes and feel happy, supported and loved.
Why supporting military kids matters
National Guard children who don’t have the benefit of a military installation community are especially vulnerable to stressors related to a parent or loved one’s military service. They may be at higher risk of developing anxiety, having mood swings, and struggling to adapt to change. Understanding how these stressors affect children can help parents prevent future problems and know what to do when their child is showing signs of distress.
Signs of distress in children
- Increased sadness, crying
- Eating difficulties
- Worry for the caregivers at home and worry for the deployed loved one’s safety
- Acting out, regressive behavior (such as bed wetting)
- Depression, dissociation
- Refusal to sleep alone
Signs of distress in teenagers
- Risky behavior
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
How to help a military child
- Communicate often. Children and teens may not realize their feelings about having a loved one in the military until you ask. Keep the lines of communication open, and create a safe space for them to speak their mind by validating their feelings and being honest. Be sure to listen for warning signs of depression and anxiety.
- Keep them connected. When a deployed parent/loved one is away, try to engage the child in activities that will keep them emotionally aware and connected to their loved one. Talk about them often, write letters, create art projects, and communicate online and over the phone whenever possible.
- Make it a team effort. Engaging extended family members, friends, your child’s teachers and members of the community is a great way to create a sense of continuity and normalcy when changes abound or a child needs help. Encourage your child’s involvement in sports, clubs or other group activities, including Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events where child and youth programs are available. Your state/territory Director of Psychological Health is also there to provide support and assistance for you and your family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Create healthy routines. Routines are proven to instill a sense of security and normalcy in children. Morning rituals and bedtime rituals provide a positive introduction and ending to every day, and help the sense of stability last throughout the day and through the night. Be sure to alert the deployed parent or loved one of the routines, so they can pick it up upon their return.
- Prepare children for changes in advance. If a major change is on the horizon, begin to slowly integrate elements of the change over time beforehand. This way, a child will have a foundation ready in advance, and may feel less jarred when a parent returns, your household relocates, or another adjustment occurs.
Remember: Help is available. Contact your Director of Psychological Health for more tips, counseling and support.