Protect Your Children from Health Risks by Building Family Resilience

Service Member hugs his young children.

As a parent, being aware of factors that can impact your child’s well-being – even into adulthood – is mission-critical. Research shows that when a child has a secure bond or attachment with their parent or caregiver, they can better manage stress.

Connect to family resilience resources.

Early childhood experiences influence future health and well-being

Research has shown that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a significant impact on lifelong health and well-being. A major study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente surveyed more than 17,000 Americans to gain a better understanding of how adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as divorce, child abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, might impact individuals as adults. The researchers found that adverse childhood experiences are very common in the general population. In fact, two out of three people have had one adverse childhood experience. However, the greater the number of adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the risk of poor health outcomes, including:

  • Risky health behaviors
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Early death

The study found a strong association between the number of adverse childhood experiences – ranging from emotional, physical and sexual abuse to substance use, mental illness in the home or domestic abuse – during childhood and distinct kinds of diseases that show up in adulthood. This includes cancer, chronic lung disease, ischemic heart disease, skeletal fractures and liver disease, as well as an increased risk of alcoholism, drug abuse and depression. In other words, negative childhood experiences are a contributing factor to serious health issues later in life.

Building family readiness and resilience can help

Fortunately, a positive figure in a child’s life can help to provide stability and security while also reducing the destructive effects of toxic stress. One of the critical roles of the military community is to raise healthy, resilient children despite the stressors and challenges they face. Service members and their families can take advantage of several support systems in place for parents and children alike.

Military OneSource non-medical counseling

Children are eligible to receive confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource for issues that include family relationships, school issues, adjustment to deployment or separation, and grief and loss. The eligibility requirements vary by the age of the child.

Child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors

Child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors are assigned within youth and teen centers, child development centers, and schools. Counselors are available to meet with military children and their families to discuss everything from self-esteem issues to life skills, such as problem solving and anger management. Visit your installation’s Military and Family Support Center for more information.

Mentorship programs

A mentor is an adult your child trusts, admires and respects, who provides support and guidance and is actively involved in your child’s life. Look for a mentor for your child in your faith community, check out the National Mentoring Partnership for formal programs in your area or contact your installation’s youth program to find out if there are any programs available on your installation. Click here for other ideas.

Connecting to the military community

The military community is also a parenting community. Many of the people in your unit, your job or in your chain of command are parents, too. By reaching out to them you build a network of support and benefit from their insights and experiences – both similar and different from yours. Connecting with neighbors, coworkers and other people in your community reminds you that you are not in this alone.

It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of military children. Family harmony is directly related to military readiness and resilience. It’s much easier to prevent a potential problem than to deal with one after the fact. By tapping into support systems and taking action to prevent toxic levels of stress in the home, you can help your child build a resiliency that will shape their life in the years to come and protect them from health risks.

Article reviewed by CPT Benjamin Samuel Telsey, MD/MPH, FAAP, Pediatrics

Giving Your Child a Happy, Healthy Start

Young boys part of the 4-H running outside

Every mother and father wants to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child. Service members are no exception. Since most healthy behaviors are developed in childhood, you can help your child get off to a good start with good habits, actions and choices to promote health and happiness. Here are some ways to help your kids get healthy and happy.

Start with nutrition

Health and happiness begins with good nutrition. Healthy foods provide the building blocks for a healthy body and can even help us fight disease. As a parent, help your child develop healthy eating habits as early as possible.

5210 Healthy Military Children is a program for military children and families.  For good nutrition, the program suggests:

  • Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Avoiding all sweetened beverages and limit juice. Do not give juice to infants under 6 months.
  • Encouraging your child to eat and drink:

    • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
    • whole grains like whole-wheat bread and brown rice
    • lean protein, such as eggs, poultry, unsalted nuts and seeds.

Breakfast is especially important for children. Hungry kids tend to have shorter attention spans and can have difficulty with problem solving, math skills and memory recall.

Encourage physical activity

The 5210 program also suggests children should have:

  • 2 or fewer hours of recreational screen time a day
  • 1 or more hours of physical activity every day

Exercise for your young one can include school recess periods, hiking, playing sports, or walking to and from school. Being physically active and playing with your child is a wonderful opportunity to get exercise while being together. Here are more resources for activities for your child:

Promote good sleep habits

Sleep is critical to good health. According to the National Institute of Heath, sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels, and chronic sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of disease. For better sleep habits:

  • Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends
  • Plan an hour of quiet time before bed
  • Develop bedtime rituals
  • Make sure the bedroom is comfortable and is a positive environment.

If you have an infant or toddler, there are things you can do to help your young child develop healthy sleep habits. The program ZERO to THREE has lots of advice and tips for sleep.

Learn how to communicate

Talking to your children — even from infancy — is one of the most important parts of parenting. The way your child communicates will change substantially between birth and the age of five. Knowing what to expect can help you understand and respond to your child in meaningful ways. The Zero to Three program has lots of parenting tips on many subjects including communicating.

Staying in touch and communicating well remain vital as your children grow up. Check out our articles and resources in Parenting on Military OneSource for more ways to connect with your kids.

Take advantage of support

It truly “takes a village” to raise a healthy, happy child. As a service member, you have access to a host of tools and programs to help you along. Here on Military OneSource, you’ll find articles and resources with information and tips on raising children. You can also contact our Military OneSource specialty consultants for help with challenges like education, adoption and special needs. Call 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Other Department of Defense resources

The New Parent Support Program provides supportive home visits to expectant parents and parents of young children. For more information, contact your local Military and Family Support Center or Family Advocacy Program. Find your local contact information for New Parent Support at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.

4-H Military Partnerships bring the resources of the Land Grant Universities to the youth programs of the military. Military youth can join 4-H clubs in their community, and they can also participate in summer camps around the country.

Boys and Girls Clubs: Mission Youth Outreach links military families with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in communities around the country for kids who may not live near installation services.

The Pregnancy and New Parent Knowledge Management Program allows you to sign up to receive pregnancy, parenting and breastfeeding digital education on a regular basis.

Raising happy, healthy children demands dedication — but there’s no more rewarding job. Learn all you can and take advantage of the resources around you to get your military kid off to a great start.

Military and Family Life Counseling Program’s Child and Youth Camps

Kids at camp high fiving service member

Children and teens learn flexibility, adaptability and resiliency through their life in a military family, but they may not understand how to apply those strengths to their current life situation. Child and youth camps create a safe and fun environment where children and teens can go to learn how to put their military-life strengths to use in their everyday lives.

Trained child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors and personal financial counselors are available to support child and youth camps. Military and family life counselors can do the following:

  • Help children and teens process their feelings
  • Engage in activities and field trips with children and youth
  • Model techniques for behavior management including feedback for staff
  • Provide additional resource support for child and youth programs staff
  • Conduct a training session called Age-Appropriate Practices – Challenging Behaviors
  • Deliver approved briefings, training and presentations for staff and parents
  • Assist specific families with parenting and child behavior issues.

Strength in numbers

Showing military children and teens they are not alone is empowering. Child and youth camps are a great way for military children to draw strength from shared experiences while building family readiness, which leads to mission readiness for service members. Camp themes cover everything from adventure to deployment and even bereavement.

Available camps include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • National Military Family Association Operation Purple Camps
  • National Guard and reserve camps
  • Operation: Military Kids camps

Request support Commanders and service leaders can request that child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors or personal financial counselors provide counseling support at a child and youth camp. Simply visit the Resource Request System and submit a child and youth camp request.

The program office accepts camp requests for counseling support year-round, and each camp requires a separate request submission. To request a counselor for a camp, please do the following:

  • Submit camp counselor requests at least 15 business days prior to the camp start date to provide sufficient time for the vendors to staff counselor assignments.
  • Do not specify the number of counselors on the request as the program office will determine the appropriate number for the camp. (The typical ratio is one counselor to 100 children.)
  • Indicate the number of hours the counselor will work each day so the program office may approve the appropriate number of resources. (Counselors work a 40-hour, flexible workweek.)
  • Submit a separate camp counselor request for personal financial counselors. They may support short-term camps for one day.

Enhance your service member’s mission readiness by supporting their family. Submit a request for child and youth behavioral military and family life counselor or personal financial counselor support for your installation’s youth camp today.

Community and Installation

American Flag

Reach Out and Read is a national, nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy by making books a routine part of pediatric care. The organization trains doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud and to give books to children at pediatric checkups from 6 months to 5 years of age, with a special focus on children growing up in poverty.

The Armed Services YMCA is a nonprofit organization that works with the Department of Defense to provide support services to military service members and their families. The organization offers essential programs to include hospital assistance, spouse support services, health and wellness services, and child care.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America partner with military installation youth centers to help young family members succeed in school, stay healthy, learn important skills, pursue arts and sports, and explore vocational choices.

The National 4-H Organization partners with many of the installation Children and Youth Services programs to provide technical assistance and training for military child care staff, as well as deployment/separation support. The organization also helps establish local 4-H clubs for military youth on installations.

MilitaryINSTALLATIONS This resource provides contact information for programs and services, maps and directions, links to comprehensive location overviews and community points of interest for military installations worldwide. Contact information for installation children and youth programs can be found under the programs or services “Child Development Center,” “Children and Youth Registration and Referral,” “Family Child Care/Child Development Homes,” “School-Age Care,” and “Youth Programs/Centers.” Contact information for children and youth-related programs can be found under the programs or services “Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS),” “Exceptional Family Member Program/Special Needs,” “Family Advocacy,” “New Parent Support Program,” “School Liaison Office/Community Schools,” and “Women, Infants, and Children (WIC & WIC-O).”

6 Tips to Harness Your MilParent Power

Service member embraces his wife and son.

As a service member, spouse or survivor you know the importance of being a good guardian — of country, community and family. Responsibility is nothing new.

Just like a position in the military, parenting is an “always-on” job that requires smarts, skills, support and attention to detail. And just like any job, there’s always more to learn and room for improvement. You can take steps to up your parenting game even higher.

Tip #1: Show them love

It may sound simple, but one of the best things you can do to help your child thrive is make sure they know how much you love them.

  • Tell them. Talk to your children about how much you care for and appreciate them.
  • Cuddle. From the moment they are born, nurturing touch is one of the easiest and most fundamental ways you can show your children they are loved and safe.

Tip #2: Give them your time

Children know when they have your full attention and when they don’t. Put down your smart phone and turn off the television and video games so you can spend time with them, face-to-face.

Distracted parenting is linked to an increase in injuries and accidents at home. But more importantly, spending unplugged time with your child contributes to their healthy growth, boosts communication skills and increases their sense of well-being. Taking just 15 minutes a day to play with your child, doing what he or she wants, can help reduce the need for negative discipline.

Tip #3: Do your homework

Powerful parenting can be learned. Learning about child development, and understanding what to expect at various ages and stages is key. There are lots of resources for you to learn about your child’s developmental phase:

  • Talk to experts like doctors, teachers, family and friends.
  • Seek out books, newsletters and online resources like Sesame Workshop Products and ZERO TO THREE.
  • Take a class or join a parenting or play group on or off the installation.

Check out other Military OneSource parenting supports and read about the importance of understanding your child’s developmental stage to get started.

Tip #4: Find and offer support

Remember, the military community is also a parenting community, and there are lots of ways you can find the support you need:

  • Know that Military OneSource and military and family life counselors are available to help talk through parenting challenges and military life stresses.
  • Understand that your installation’s Military and Family Support Center can advise on local resources, tools and support networks, from classes for expectant parents to child care to programs for youth. Information, good ideas, and social media support groups are available 24 hours a day on Military OneSource.
  • Discover Sesame Workshop Products and ZERO TO THREE, which offer DVDs, books, apps and games that are helpful, fun and specially geared to military children and families.
  • • Find support in friends, neighbors and support groups beyond the military community.

Don’t forget that you, too, are part of the parenting community. If you see a parent who could use a helping hand, offer yours. Babysitting, cooking or even a kind word can mean a lot to a parent in need.

Tip #5: Get healthy

Healthy habits start at home. Eating nutritious meals, getting plenty of physical activity and adequate sleep can make a huge difference in your child’s health and well-being — and in your own. Learn more about the Healthy Children 5210 initiative and check out your installation’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation offerings to get started

Tip #6: Cut stress

Too much stress makes it hard to be an effective parent. Learning how to manage stress can improve your happiness, help your kids and show them they can handle it, too. Talk to a Military OneSource counselor or check out the online stress management tools and mobile solutions to help you improve your mood.

Of course, if you think a child may be at risk of harm or neglected, you can report your concerns by reaching out to Military OneSource or the Family Advocacy Program on your installation. You can also contact the Department of Defense Child Abuse and Safety Hotline at 877-790-1197 (OCONUS, call collect 571-372-5348) or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453).

Supporting Your Child’s Education at Home and School

Young girl wearing face mask in school.

Supporting your child’s education is one of your most important responsibilities. By cultivating a love of learning and knowledge at a young age, you can prepare your child for success. Here are some strategies to help you build a foundation of learning.

Nurture learning at home

Learning doesn’t stop when the school day ends. A child absorbs as much or more at home and through his or her experiences as through a textbook. Try some of these tips to encourage learning at home:

  • Keep to a routine. Make homework part of the routine by sticking to the same spot and time of day. Make sure your child has a quiet place to study.
  • Monitor homework. Check your child’s homework every night, not just to see whether it’s complete, but also for quality. Help your child carve out chunks of time to tackle larger projects.
  • Praise your child’s efforts. Children learn best by positive reinforcement. Whenever you have an opportunity, praise your child for a job well done.
  • Encourage learning at home. If your child is interested in insects, buy an ant farm. Talk about something in the news or a book he or she just read. Fostering full-time learning is one of the best ways to equip children for life after graduation and future success.

Build a relationship with your child’s school

Your relationship with the school will show your child and the school’s staff the importance you attach to education. Even if you relocate often or are temporarily deployed, there are ways you can build a relationship with the school and your child’s teachers to help your child perform as well as possible:

  • Meet the teacher. Allowing your child’s teacher to put a face with your name is a great way to show your investment in your child’s education.
  • Attend events. Being present at back-to-school nights, school board meetings, open houses and school fairs can help both you and your child feel more connected to the school.
  • Volunteer. There are dozens of ways to give your time to your child’s school, so it’s just a matter of finding a way to volunteer that suits your schedule.
  • Join the parent-teacher group. Attending PTA/PTO meetings can be a great way to stay in the loop about what’s happening at the school and get involved.

Tap into support and resources

Providing the best possible education for your child is not a one-person job. Be sure to tap into the support and resources of your military community.

  • Home-schooling resources are available on your installation. They include school liaison officers, activities through your installation’s Department of Defense Education Activity, or DODEA, school, and child, youth and teen programs.
  • The Head Start program teaches reading, math and other developmental skills to children 5 and younger before they start school. If you are stationed overseas, Sure Start is open to command-sponsored military children who meet specific age requirements and other criteria.
  • The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library is your source for free online resources for children, teens and adults — including eBooks and audiobooks on virtually every topic. Use the library to help your child learn and stay engaged and entertained.
  • Military OneSource education consultants can assist you with questions about your child’s education. These one-on-one sessions are free, confidential and can provide you with referrals to in-home tutors and tutoring centers in your area as well as public and private school information. Call 800-342-9647 at any time to schedule an appointment. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Give your child the best chance for success. Foster an appreciation for learning — it can help your child meet his or her potential and develop life skills that extend far beyond the classroom.

Military Youth and Teen Programs

Girl doing gymnastics.

Military Youth and Teen Programs help thousands of military kids and teens daily to develop essential skills, make lasting connections and have loads of fun. Participating youth experience a safe place to learn, play and grow; are surrounded by supportive relationships with caring mentors; and most of all, enriched program experiences and activities year-round, including during summer breaks, holidays and before and after school hours.

Youth centers

Active-duty service members, activated National Guard and reserve members and Department of Defense civilians may all take advantage of an installation’s youth center services. Be prepared for a new experience as each youth center varies. Encourage your youth to give the new center a try. It may offer things that your old center did not, such as:

  • Computer labs for homework support and tutoring
  • Special field trips 
  • Gymnasiums for supervised sports 
  • Fitness rooms 
  • Music rooms 
  • Game rooms 
  • Volunteer and employment listings 

Military-connected youth program outreach support in the community

If your closest military installation youth/teen center is not be conveniently located near your home or duty station, you can still benefit from other military youth and teen programs in your area: 

  • Check out the 4-H Military Partnerships at 4-H offers a wealth of resources in STEM subjects, healthy living, citizenship, public speaking and other military core program areas providing valuable life skills, curriculum and resources for military youth and teens across the country and around the world.