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April is Month of the Military Child, a time to celebrate and acknowledge the resiliency children of military service members demonstrate as well as the unique challenges they face and overcome. Over 1.82 million children have at least one parent in the military. These children face a unique set of challenges, from deployments and homecomings to moving across the country or world. The Military Child Education Coalition estimates that military children move 6-9 times during their K-12 education, facing multiple deployments during that time. Oftentimes, these children and their families are geographically separated from extended family members and therefore rely on the supports provided both by the military community and the education system where they are enrolled.
In this post, I’ll highlight 3 unique challenges military children face and 9 books to use in counseling to invite discussion.
Deployment for Military Children
Military deployments are typically a 3-stage event, including the pre-deployment time, the actual deployment, and the post-deployment reintegration process. Counselors may see an increase in behavioral issues in the time leading up to deployment as well as a wide range of emotional responses, including depression, externalizing behaviors and anxiety, in their students throughout the deployment. The following 5 books are excellent counseling library additions to open conversations about this difficult time and help students begin to process their emotional responses.
This book is perfect for students who are preparing for a parent to deploy. Students will read about a boy who finds the perfect gift to give his father before he leaves for deployment.
When your mom or dad is deployed, sadness and fear are normal and acceptable feelings. The author invites readers to believe that the tears shed in these situations have a magical purpose and encourages discussion of the pain children might be experiencing by reminding them that others around them feel the pain as well.
In this story, children explore their feelings through color. They are reminded that talking about the range of emotions they feel during a parent’s deployment as a healthy way to manage their experiences.
When Lily’s dad is gone, she feels angry, sad, confused, and sometimes even stubborn. She soon realizes that all of these emotions are okay, and even her mom feels those emotions too. She figures out that she has a safe place to experience her feelings and discovers some strategies for managing these big feelings.
In this solution-focused book, children see themselves as team members who play an important role in the deployment process. The author provides practical steps for children to cope with a parent’s deployment and planning for his or her return.
Homecoming for Military Children
Homecoming is the long-awaited reunification of the military family after a deployment. Counselors may observe feelings of excitement and anticipation in students, as well as feelings of worry and reluctance as students anticipate changes to established routines. The following two books address the worries a students might have as they wait for their deployed parents to return.
Homecomings are often – and for good reason – painted in a celebratory light. In this book, however, the author highlights some of the worries children might experience and be hesitant to voice as deployments come to an end. This is a great book to begin exploring feelings and expectations as homecoming day approaches.
Bobby has long awaited the day his father will return home from his deployment. As he joins the other waiting families to welcome home his father’s ship, he loses his grip on the red balloon he brought to help his father find him in the crowd. This book highlights the chaos of a homecoming day and acknowledges the fear that some children might harness about their returning parent’s ability to find them!
Permanent Change of Station (PCS) Moves
Military service members receive orders to move on average every 2-4 years. Sometimes, this results in children moving during the middle of the school year. Relocating military children have an increased chance of developing mental health issues due to challenges in adapting to new environments, making new friends, and family stress. The two books included below can help counselors support students during these changes.
Moving is a part of life for military families. This book highlights the reluctance and denial children experience when they have to move away from familiar places and people and assimilate into a new community.
A familiar character, Alexander, faces with a new challenge: moving 1000 miles away. Judith Viorst honors what is important to kids when they move: friends, neighbors, and comfortable experiences they are leaving behind. Alexander’s parents allow him the space to come to terms with the move in his own time.
While stressors relating to deployments, homecomings, and PCS moves can result in negative outcomes for military children, supportive relationships are protective factors for this community. School counselors have the unique position to help military students anticipate, process, and react to these challenges and create positive outcomes.
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