April is the Month of the Military Child. Currently, there are almost 2 million children “serving” our nation. Military kids live either in military communities or within civilian communities. They go through unique challenges related to military life. This means that these kids have to experienced one or both parents deploying, a solo parent or living with a different family member (not their mom or dad), reunification, and having their parents integrated back into their family. Since they are moving around so much, military kids have to adapt to a new school, new friends, a new neighborhood, and they have to “find their place” all over again. Some military kids also experience their parent coming home from a deployment with a combat injury, illness, or even death.
However, military kids, like their soldiers, are incredibly resilient. Some thrive in their situation while others are more at risk. While I understand not every family has experienced what military life is like or have friends and family in this situation, I am sharing some things that you can do by yourself or with your kids to bring awareness and compassion to the brave sons and daughters supporting their military parents.
Pick a day and wear purple: A campaign launched on military bases a few years ago to promote the awareness and support of military children. Schools on military bases come together and “Purple Up” to show visible support and to thank military kids for their strength and sacrifice. The color purple was chosen because it symbolizes all the branches of the military – Army green, Coast Guard blue, Air Force blue, Marine red, and Navy blue. April 21st is the designated day for students attending school on base, but pick any day in April to wear purple to show support!
Break the ice first: Go to the park, go to the library, or play at a zoo or a museum and encourage your kid to be the first one to say “Hi” to a kid. When you move as frequent as military children do, they are usually the first ones to say “Hi!”. It’s nice when someone else takes the pressure off and says “hello!” first.
Find out about your roots: Frequent moving doesn’t mean you forget about who you are and where you came from. Take the time to talk to your kids about the city or state they were born in, talk to them about where your parents came from, and share stories from your childhood. Play games you used to play as a kid and do things with them that you used to do when you were their age. For example, my friends and I would have shoe kicking contests – we would go outside and kick our shoe and whoever kicked theirs the farthest won! Then we’d run back, grab our shoes, and play another round. In your kid’s eyes, you are their parent so you’ve always been an adult to them, it’ll be a bit of a shock to your kids when you talk about what you used to do as a kid!
Plan your next trip: Plan for a pseudo-PCS. A PCS is a Permanent Change of Station. You basically get orders of your next duty station and you have to plan where you live, how you’ll get there, when you’ll get there, what school the kids will go to, what you have to bring... etc, etc. Planning for a PCS is stressful. Actually undergoing a PCS is stressful. But vacations? Those are not! Take out a calendar, figure out a date to take a trip, plan what you want to do, where you want to eat, where you want to stay, and figure out the To-Do list before you take the trip, or in my military terms – BACKPLAN!
Write or send a package to a soldier: Organizations likes Adopt a Solider or Soldiers’ Angels connects American families with deployed US soldiers. You and your kids can send a solider a post card, a letter, or a care package with stuff that they would need. Some things to include in a care package would be: baby wipes, chapstick, granola bars, reading material (books, magazines, or newspapers), hand sanitizer, a shaving kit, or gum. Care packages can be a big morale booster and the service member would, of course, appreciate anything sent but be practical – there’s not a whole lot of room for clutter, so DON’T send the entire book series of Harry Potter.
Write a letter to someone: Technology makes it incredibly convenient to talk (or not talk to!) people. However, some kid’s have parents stationed in places where a phone or internet access was not available and writing letters are their only form of communication. Have your kids draw a picture, scribble some letters, or if they’re old enough – help them write a letter to someone. You don’t have to send a letter to a deployed soldier, but writing a letter to a grandparent or an aunt or uncle that lives far away helps your child connect with that person on a different level!
When you write a letter, that’s something that the other person can keep for a long time, it shows the other person how much you care to take time out to handwrite something, and it makes you feel good! The process of taking out a piece of paper, an envelope, writing down your message, purchasing a stamp, and delivering your letter is a long process – but that special someone receiving it will love how thoughtful it is (and it’ll break up the monotony of getting junk mail and bills in the mailbox!)
Skype or Facetime a loved one: If a soldier is lucky, they get access to wi-fi during travel, deployment, or on an unaccompanied assignment. After planning around time zones, Facetime or Skype is sacred because daddy’s little face on that little screen is literally the most contact that your child will have with their other parent. Beautiful things happen over Facetime/Skype –husband’s are able to “be there” for the birth of their kids, tours of living spaces, birthday celebrations, bedtime stories, witnessing first steps – all of that is possible! If you have someone that you have been meaning to contact again – consider Facetime or Skype instead of a text and share a beautiful moment together!
Growing up did you move a lot or did you and your family mostly stay in the same place? Do you have any tips or advice I can give my little guy for being the “new kid”?