When we honor the service of our brave military members and veterans, we should also recognize and celebrate our military families and the sacrifices, opportunities, and challenges more than 2 million children experience. Faced with disruptive moves, emotional deployments, and reintegration of family members who could return with visible and invisible wounds of war, our nation’s smallest warriors display astounding resilience and play critical roles as valued members of our military community.
While our armed forces diligently ensure military children have the resources needed to thrive during their family’s service, children and families transitioning into civilian life after a service member separates or retires can encounter new difficulties.
Children who spent their lives within the military community may miss the connections they had with friends and classmates who could relate to their experiences. Being the new kid on the block can also be challenging if the other kids have known one another for years.
Their parents could also be struggling with adjustments to civilian life: looking for new employment opportunities and navigating the world of child care, and finding health care and educational programs that were previously provided by the military. Emotional and financial insecurity can create anxiety for parents as well as children, who might feel uncertain about the stability within their homes.
Children can face additional obstacles when their family includes a veteran with physical or mental wounds of war, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues can make parenting and partnering challenging due to difficulties maintaining emotional connections, communicating clearly, or controlling bouts of anger. This can create social, behavioral, and emotional problems for children struggling to connect with and understand their parents.
Hurdles like this can take a toll on military children. But there are steps families can take to help children navigate this transition:
- Reach out to organizations that provide support and resources to military and veteran families and children, including the Military Child Education Coalition, Sesame Street for Military Families, the National Military Family Association, Military OneSource, National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP).
- Join community organizations, including sports and recreation centers, to help children make new friends and feel a sense of belonging in their new neighborhood.
- Build relationships through local play groups, school-based gatherings, and local veterans organizations to create an extended family support network.
- Volunteer to give back to the community. Volunteering not only presents opportunities to make new friends, but it is proven to boost mental health and create a sense of purpose for children and parents alike.
Throughout the year, we can all take time to show our appreciation for military and veteran families and celebrate our nation’s youngest warriors for their courage to continually succeed.