It’s no secret that military families tend to believe that the general public doesn’t fully understand our lifestyle. But as I wrote in my latest post for Blue Star Families, I’m beginning to think that we can help people understand us simply by opening the lines of communication and sharing our stories. We’re all adults, right? We’re all capable of verbalizing our feelings, right?
Well, not exactly. What about our children? How do we help our precious military brats when civilians don’t understand them?
The other day a mil spouse friend of mine was seeking advice on Facebook. Her husband is deployed, and she lives in a non-military town. Her daughter was inconsolable at school, missing her daddy so much that she couldn’t stop crying. And there wasn’t a single adult at her school who was able to help her. When my friend questioned the administration about what had happened, she was told that no one at the school was trained in working with military children.
Now my friend is wondering how she can help educators understand the unique needs of a military child. I sat down to compose an answer for her, but I found myself at an odd loss for words. Odd because I’m both a teacher and a mother of two military brats who have endured deployments. But as a teacher, I’ve only had 1 student who had a deployed parent, and his behavior never changed. And as a parent, I’ve seen only minor and temporary behavior changes in my children while their daddy was gone.
Despite the fact that I earned my teaching degree at a university in a military town and the fact that I currently teach at a school in a military town, I’ve never been trained to cope with, as my friend put it, the unique needs of military children. The only reason I feel capable of understanding my military brat students is because of my experiences as a parent of military brats. But what about my co-workers who have had no personal experiences with military families? How would they deal with a student who was inconsolably missing her deployed daddy? My co-workers are all fantastic teachers, most with way more experience in the classroom than I can claim. But most of them probably have no idea about those unique needs of military brats.
So how do we advocate for our children? How do we speak for our young military brats when they don’t know how to speak for themselves? How can we help their educators/caregivers understand their unique needs? What kinds of resources can we share with them?
Military OneSource is a great place to start, both as a resource for ourselves as military families and for educators learning about children in military families. Printing out online articles for teachers to read and directing them to websites like Military Child Education Coalition, Military Kids Connect, and Sesame Street for Military Families are also helpful. But most of all, I think we all need to remember the most basic means of crossing that military/civilian divide: communication. Inform teachers before your spouse deploys so she can start looking for behavioral changes at school. Share the books you’re reading to your child at home (you can find some of my favorites for both kids and adults here). Describe what methods of coping are working at home for your child, such as Daddy Dolls, deployment journals, or as my friend is trying, art therapy. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage teachers to do the same.
Our military brats do indeed have unique needs because they are unique children with unique challenges. And they need and deserve all the advocates they can get.