The situation in Afghanistan has immensely impacted our nation’s military communities. As we consider how to support our veterans during this time, we must also understand how recent events affect military families, particularly the children of wounded, ill and fallen service members. These children face considerable challenges on a daily basis.
To provide meaningful support throughout both military and civilian communities, we must first start by listening to what these children want us to understand. A coalition of veteran-serving organizations, including DAV (Disabled American Veterans), PsychArmor Institute and Camp Corral, released an educational resource video and learning guide last week on “15 Things Military and Veterans’ Kids Want You to Know.” Sourced directly from more than 2,000 military children, these insights should inspire a great deal of humility from anyone who interacts with military-connected children.
Non-military-associated adults may be quick to treat military children differently from everyone else, but one of the first things these children want everyone to know is that their families are like “regular” families in many ways. Just as with their civilian peers’ families, each military family is unique with its own culture and ways of daily living.
These differences extend to how each child deals with having a military parent deployed. Deployments are difficult to process, and this stress can manifest as physical symptoms such as stomachaches. An adult’s first instinct may be to get a military child to talk about their feelings, but this may not always be the best approach.
Instead, the best thing a concerned individual can do is to listen to military children with the understanding that there may be times when they just do not want to talk about a particular issue. In such times, it is best to let these children simply be kids.
Some military children tell us that they understand why their parents serve — and more importantly, that they are proud of their family’s service. As such, military children often step up to handle extra responsibilities, such as running errands or watching siblings, to help their families.
When a deployment ends, military children may have to navigate their parent’s return home as a changed person. Changes may include wounds that are visible and more easily identified, or invisible wounds that may not show on the surface but can have devastating effects on the family, such as post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries. In some cases, these children may have to serve as caregivers for a parent recovering from an injury.
The key thing that non-military individuals must understand is that military children often have extra responsibilities, such as caregiver duties, which may take time away from the traditional types of activities or socializing that kids typically enjoy.
Military children face a myriad of challenges, from processing a parent’s deployment to uprooting their lives when the family moves every few years. One of the best ways that military kids cope with these challenges is by building friendships with fellow military children — or, in other words, kids who understand what it means to live the unique military lifestyle.
Despite these challenges, military children want everyone to know that there are also many positives to this lifestyle. They gain many unique perspectives from the various places they live, schools they attend and people they meet. Most importantly, navigating these challenges can strengthen their resilience and self-efficacy. Adults and non-military individuals must understand that military children are strong, capable people.
Whether an individual is a social worker, educator, first responder, coach or friendly neighbor to a military child, it’s important to heed these children’s words when interacting with them. The complete list of “15 Things Military and Veterans’ Kids Want You to Know” is viewable online via Camp Corral’s website.
These children have served and sacrificed in their own way, and our nation owes them the same respect that we bestow upon our veterans and active-duty service members.
Lori Noonan is chief operating officer of Camp Corral, a nonprofit provider of support and enrichment opportunities to the children of wounded, ill and fallen military heroes. A Navy veteran and active-duty military spouse, she is the volunteer chief strategy officer for VETLANTA and strategy development director for Proudly She Served.